1 photo: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
African Union Commission Deputy Chairperson Erastus Mwencha delivered a message of widening international cooperation to a conference of African, U.S., and European partners in Stuttgart, Germany October 13, 2010, during a speech focused on opportunities and challenges of Africa's maritime domain. The two-day Conference on Maritime Safety and Security: Towards Economic Prosperity, co-sponsored by the U.S. Departments of State and Defense and hosted by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), concentrates on forging partnerships, identifying projects that support maritime security activities, and strengthening collaborative strategies. This international event brings together more than 170 participants representing the African Union Commission, nearly 20 African nations, U.S. government agencies, international and inter-governmental organizations, along with academic and private sector experts. The goal is to provide a forum for interaction among African and U.S. policymakers and non-traditional maritime safety and security stakeholders to identify and discuss common cross-sector maritime security strategies for sustained capacity building and economic development, according to conference organizers. With maritime challenges growing each year off Africa's coasts, Mwencha emphasized the importance of international partners in developing a strategy to tackle issues that affect not only Africa, but also the world. These include piracy, illegal fishing, environmental crimes, human trafficking, terrorism, oil theft and arms and drug smuggling. "These are crimes of a global nature," Mwencha said. "Without a concerted effort by the global community, the health of Africa's oceans and most significant inland waterways will be irreversibly damaged." Mwencha delivered the conference's keynote address. "Any threat can gradually undermine the security of an individual, a state or society and, at a greater level, the security of a whole region or the international trade, as is the case with the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia today," Mwencha said. "When these threats undermine the security of all these categories, there is obviously a need for action." Among challenges in Africa, piracy has been a topic highlighted frequently in the media; however, it was not a main issue at the conference. Event organizers said the conference was more focused on long-term strategies for land-based matters - the root of maritime problems that include piracy. A key aspect in the African Union's (AU) plan is educating the international community on Africa's issues to gain knowledge and support. "Until there is true understanding of the strategic importance of Africa's domain, vulnerabilities will continue to grow," Mwencha said. U.S. Africa Command supports the totality of Africa's efforts, said General William E. Ward, AFRICOM commander. "The conference is a way to help us synchronize (and) coordinate the activities that we're doing ... to complement, support and then cause a greater effect overall to be achieved, as the nations of Africa works to increase their ability to provide security over their maritime domain," Ward said. Command initiatives such as Africa Partnership Station (APS) and the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership program (AMLEP) aim to enable African partners to build their maritime security capacity and improve management of their maritime environment through training and real-world collaboration. APS began in 2007 with one U.S. Navy ship working with the nations of the west coast of Africa, providing tailored training, exercises, education, and maintenance activities and partnership opportunities. It is now beginning its fifth cycle, features an international staff, and has expanded to the east coast of Africa. It is an international program, with 26 nations participating, including seven European partners, some of which sail under the APS banner. The next step in African maritime security is to develop and implement Africa's Integrated Maritime Strategy, which Ambassador Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said will consist of an integrated framework that includes all aspects of maritime security and seeks to incorporate all stakeholders at the regional, national and international levels to work together for capacity to secure Africa and its waters. Carson, along with Ward and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Vicki Huddleston, provided the opening remarks at the first session of the conference. Mwencha emphasized that a collaborative, multi-layered effort of all stakeholders will result in enhanced maritime security, leading to reduced revenue losses and increased benefits. "These increased benefits," Mwencha said, "will positively contribute to environmental and socio-economic development, as well as increased national, regional and continental stability, and by the same token, make a substantive contribution to global security." Related item: A news conference transcript from the event is posted on the www.africom.mil website.