Fourth Academic Symposium in Dakar, Senegal

By Doris Mariani, Senior Strategic Advisor, Strategy, Plans and Programs Directorate, United States Africa Command

I recently attended the fourth Academic Symposium in Dakar, Senegal, organized jointly by the United States Africa Command and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS).  The symposium was designed to enhance understanding of the Africa Command, to solicit ideas from African, European and U.S. academics on how the Command can improve its engagements with African partners, and to discuss how to further academic collaboration.  It was a valuable opportunity to engage in a face-to-face dialogue with 48 Africans from 21 countries, and to gain their personal perspective not always possible from the office in Stuttgart.

We received many recommendations, but I would like to share three points, based on discussions in my working group.

Firstly, our African participants viewed security sector broadly, including military, police, fire, border patrol, customs, judiciary, and emphasized that they all needed capacity building…building military capacity, in isolation, was not the solution for enhancing human security. They recognized that this exceeded the Command’s military-to-military mandate but urged us to mobilize support from other parts of the United States Government.  This underscores the necessity of a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach, where feasible.

Secondly, we had a lively debate about the role of African militaries’ involvement in development.  Should they stay in barracks or should they get engaged with population in fostering development?  There were strong opinions on both sides, but in the end, the consensus was that the military had a positive role to play in development, especially in underdeveloped border regions.

Thirdly, while African academics in my group strongly endorsed the Command’s support for more security-related academic research, they shied away from joint U.S./European – African research. The reason, they pointed out, was that too often in the past, the Africans did the work but were not given the credit.

Last but not least, to increase my cultural and situational awareness, I took some personal time over the weekend to  travel outside Dakar.  In contrast to the splendor of Dakar, I saw another side of Senegal.  I saw poor villages, piles of garbage on the roadside, trees uprooted by coastal erosion, an island that was created by rise in sea level. I talked with fishermen who said there is less fish nowadays, and more foreign trawlers.  In summary, Senegal was like most of the thirteen African countries I have visited – a series of contrasts.  As an economist who has spent a decade in international development in underdeveloped countries, I understand why the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) African Economic Outlook 2010 states that “With five years left to the target date to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals, progress on most has been sluggish and it is unlikely that they will be attained.”  As participants in my group stated, over and above everything else, African  governments must have the political will and exercise good governance…absent that, African problems were not going to be solved.   

Read more at www.africom.mil

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