General William ‘Kip’ Ward (Commander, AFRICOM) delivered the keynote address which opened the AFRICOM and US-Africa Relations conference, 18 February 2008, hosted by the Royal United Services Institute.
He outlined the mission of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), and emphasised that its activities in Africa would be based on partnership and co-operation. Furthermore, he said that the command was still a 'work in progress' and that there was still much for AFRICOM to learn about its new mission.
General Ward pointed out that AFRICOM’s mission is to ensure sustained and coherent American security engagement on the African continent. The goal is to assist African nations in the provision of better security to their citizens; it is also in America’s interests to have improved security in Africa. This will involve working with a wide range of actors. AFRICOM will work bilaterally with African governments as well as provide support to multilateral African organisations such as the African Union and regional economic communities. It will also co-ordinate with international partners operating on the continent.
AFRICOM, currently based in European Command in Stuttgart, is currently in transition before being stood up in October 2008. Its permanent location(s) is still under review. However, it is currently involved in a number of activities on the continent, through established US-African civilian and military partnerships. One of these is Operation Enduring Freedom - Trans Sahara. American involvement is also focused on the provision of expertise such as electrical, medical, naval and veterinary training. The development of local military capability is taking place, at local request, through the enforcement of positive values and the building of professional institutions. As the command achieves capacity, and takes over these missions through this year of transition, it will become a separate and unified entity.
In his address, Gen Ward stressed that expertise and ‘knowledge development’ would be sought from all areas of civil society, such as academia, think-tanks, private industry and other organisations outside of the military. Recognising evolving thinking on security, development and civil-military relations, he explicitly stated that the ‘military does not build the economy’, and that young men needed jobs: the importance of economic development, while not in the purview of AFRICOM, was nevertheless recognised.
General Ward emphasised the relationship-building aspect of the command, saying the command will work with partners ‘as best we can and to the degree they want us to.’ Listening and implementing feedback would be vital in improving these relationships. The value of the endeavour would be seen in ten to twenty years, he argued. These long-term activities, it was hoped, would create a basic model for other situations and commands.
Sustained involvement is also crucial to ‘active security’ to cement peace and stability in a country and region. The US engages in continual dialogue to ensure understanding of local needs, such as the development of indigenous security capacity. It is also seeking a proactive response to conflict, creating conditions that prevent conflict with African partners, rather than simply crisis response which in the long term is more costly.
In concluding his address, General Ward stressed that the US military knows that trust has to be earned if it is to become a viable partner. It must listen and adopt appropriate policies. Partnerships must be made that lead to development and security, guaranteeing continental stability. All stakeholders, he said, must know that AFRICOM will ‘listen to them and respect what they have to offer.’