The annual U.S. Africa Command sponsored senior leader and communications symposium, Africa Endeavor, was held July 30-Aug.3, 2018 in Santa Maria, Sal, Cabo Verde.
Africa Endeavor 2018 brought together senior communications representatives from more than 35 African and Western nations and regional and international organizations to discuss communications challenges and share best practices.
“The goal is to continue to move forward and build communications interoperability across all of our partner forces within the continent of Africa,” said U.S. Army Col. Jeffrey Schroeder, director C4 systems, U.S. Africa Command. “We are working diligently but it is not done overnight, it’s about working toward consensus about what is the best way to move forward collectively to improve our security posture across the African continent.”
The symposium is designed to help develop multinational communications practices for peacekeeping, disaster response and counter extremist organization operations mandated by the African Union and the United Nations. The symposium provides a venue for military leaders to review and analyze their forces current abilities to communicate during multinational operations, and to develop standardized training and procedures to improve future training and support.
The theme of this year’s event was “synchronizing partnership efforts to maximize interoperability.”
“It’s important to work with other countries because with multilateral operations, such as with the United Nations and the African Union, you cannot work alone,” said Capt. Nicephore Gaga, company leader, 1st Signal battalion, Benin Armed Forces. “You have to work with others and in order to work together we have to reach high level of interoperability.”
Building partnerships is one of the keys to sharing information when a communications emergency, like a cyber attack occurs.
“If there’s something that happens with my neighbor country or in my country, we share that so we are all aware,” said Lt. Col. Johannes Ashipembe, signal officer, Namibian Army. “We learn from each other.”
Throughout the week, participants discussed a variety of topics related to communications and technology. One particular topic, cybersecurity, was discussed heavily during the event and the week included a cybersecurity table-top exercise.
“Cyber security is important because society is becoming more and more dependent on information and communication technologies,” said Vaclav Borovicka, director of cyber security policy department at the Czech Republic National Cyber and Information Security Agency. “When you depend on something there is a risk. That’s why nations need to focus on cyber security.”
Cyber security is a global issue and Africa is developing rapidly, he said. “Like all countries African nations have some critical information infrastructure like power companies, hospitals, and banks that are all connected via internet,” said Martina Ulmanova, head of cyber exercise unit at the Czech Republic National Cyber and Information Security Agency.
Borovicka and Ulmanova were part of a team from the Czech Republic that conducted a cyber security table-top exercise during Africa Endeavor. The exercise was designed to encourage discussion and critical thinking about how to respond to a complex cyber attack.
“The exercise was to show them that cyber security is not just a technical issue and it was aimed at practicing and going through the decision-making process,” Ulmanova said. “The exercise was to show them that a cyber attack can have multiple implications and impacts across a government.”
The exercise was very useful to participants and can be mimicked to train communications officers in their own nations, Ashipembe said.
Over the last few years of Africa Endeavor, there has been an increase in the participation of African women in the communications field. This year, there was a 28 percent increase in the number of women attending the symposium.
“In our cultures there is a belief that a woman cannot be involved in areas that are technical,” said Capt. Kutlo Mogapi, Cybersecurity officer,
Botswana Defence Force. “For me, it’s a good thing to see more women coming here so they can realize that if other women can do it, so can I.” Now in its 13th iteration, Africa Endeavor began as a command post exercise, Schroeder said.
“There are numerous different systems out there across the peacekeeping operations and different operations that we find ourselves in and we may not be able to get all the technical aspects to be interoperable,” he said. “We can make sure that the tactics, techniques, procedures, standard operating procedures, strategies and planning mechanisms are relatively standard across all of our partners.”
Having this level of standardization would help African nations when they operate across borders, he said.
Africa Endeavor is all about bringing together the partners to find common solutions, Schroeder said.
“… our African partners talk with one another, especially countries that don’t have regular conversations,” he said. “Seeing those individuals go off and sit and just share challenges and opportunities brings me the most joy in seeing Africa Endeavor be successful.”