U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command, wrapped up his annual posture statement to Congress with a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee March 17.
Townsend testified alongside U.S. Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, Jr., commander, U.S. Central Command, and Sasha Baker, Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy. Townsend and McKenzie testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee March 15.
“For nearly three years, it’s been a great privilege – the privilege of my career – to represent the dedicated members of U.S. Africa Command,” Townsend said during his opening statement to the Senate committee. “Together with our interagency teammates, AFRICOM protects and advances U.S. strategic interests, prevents strategic distraction and preserves America’s options all in concert with our allies and partners.”
Townsend said that as U.S. Africa Command’s fifth commander, he has come to learn five truths about Africa.
“First, America cannot ignore Africa. Africa’s challenges, opportunities and security interests are inseparable from our own. Weak or poor governance, conflict and climate change stress the stability of many African nations which will in turn impact U.S. security and prosperity,” he said.
Second, Townsend said, America’s strategic competitors clearly see Africa’s potential, with Russia and China both seeking to convert hard and soft power investments into political influence, strategic access and military advantage.
“Third, deadly terrorism has metastasized to Africa,” he said, with al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s fastest growing and most kinetically active affiliate, in East Africa, and ISIS and Al Qaeda groups in West Africa and elsewhere among the world’s fastest growing, wealthiest, and deadliest terrorist groups. “(They) remain grave and growing threats that aspire to kill Americans both there and in our homeland.”
Fourth, despite a recent surge in democratic backsliding, Townsend said, “Our values, our democracy and our willingness to work together with African partners creates a huge demand for U.S. engagement and partnership.”
And finally, he said, employing only 0.3 percent of the DOD operating budget, U.S. Africa Command is an economy-of-force command that yields outsized returns for U.S. and African security interests.
Africa lies at a global crossroads and presents a complex environment ripe with opportunity while burdened with challenges.
“It holds tremendous geo-strategic significance while being shaped by the competing forces of prosperity and poverty, peace and conflict, plenty and famine, good governance and corruption and democratic backsliding,” Townsend said. “These tensions are evident throughout Africa—a continent whose socio-economic importance to the future cannot be ignored.”
African Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is a global leader averaging 4.9 percent per year since 2000, outpacing global GDP growth by 2 percent over the same period. This growth makes the continent a powerful part of the global economy—for both supply and demand. With some estimates projecting a quarter of the world’s population will live in Africa by 2050—a billion of whom will be under 18 and entering the labor force – this impact is likely to increase.
“How those acting on this continent—including Africans, allies, partners and competitors—mitigate or exacerbate the drivers of fragility, like climate change and violent extremism, will determine whether this human potential serves as a catalyst for growth or a contributor to global crises,” Townsend said.
Townsend said a more stable and prosperous Africa will enhance America’s security and U.S. Africa Command is committed to its work to improve security and stability as part of a whole-of-government approach on the continent, doing our part lessen the sources of extremist recruitment, to create stable political environments, to improve governance and to promote democracy and the rule of law.
“A sustained and coordinated U.S. government approach, bolstered by strategic vision and appropriate resourcing, can serve to strengthen relationships with partners in Africa, preserve U.S. interests, and further our objective for increased security, stability and prosperity,” he said.
For more information about the testimony, go here.