Archive for the 'West Africa' Category

Africa Snapshot: Senegal

Senegal is this year’s host of Western Accord, an annual exercise designed to improve cooperation and connection among West African nations. More than 600 people are participating from the Armed Forces of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Guinea, The Gambia and France, along with another 600 military personnel from the United States. The exercise runs from June 26 to July 24, 2012.

Population:About 13 million people live in Senegal, as of 2011. The median age is 18 years old.

Flag of Senegal (CIA Factbook)

Languages: French is the official language. Other languages spoken include Wolof, Pulaar, Serer, Diola, Mandingo, Soninke.

Religion: The Senegalese population is 94% Muslim, 5% Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and 1% indigenous beliefs, according to the CIA Factbook.

 History: Based on archaeological findings, Senegal was inhabited during the prehistoric era. Islam came to the Senegal River valley in the 11th century. A few hundred years later, the Jolof Empire of Senegal was founded.

Senegal is home to the first French settlement in West Africa, Saint-Louis. In 1959, Senegal and the French Soudan formed the Mali Federation. That federation celebrated independence from France on April 4, 1960. Senegal split from Soudan (later Mali) in 1960, when its first president was elected.

In 1982, Senegal joined with The Gambia to create Senegambia, a union that fell apart in 1989. A Socialist party ruled Senegal for four decades until 2000, when Abdoulaye Wade was elected president. He ruled until 2012, when Macky Sall defeated him in a spring runoff election. He is serving a 7-year term and is eligible for a second term.

Map of Senegal (CIA Factbook)

The White House released a statement after the runoff, which included: “Senegal has, through this election, reaffirmed its tradition as a leading example of good governance and democracy at work in Africa and remains an example for its neighbors. The government and people of Senegal have once again demonstrated their commitment to political expression through peaceful, democratic elections, making it harder for non-democratic forces near and far to prevail.”

Economy: Its natural resources include fish, phosphates, iron ore. Donor assistance remains a major contributor to the economy.

Geography: Senegal is located the farthest west of any country on the continent. Located on the North Atlantic Ocean, Senegal has a sliver carved out of it around the Gambia River, which is The Gambia. Its other neighbors are Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali and Mauritania.

Relations with the United States: America has a very good relationship with Senegal. The government often has supported the United States in the United Nations, including supporting peacekeeping efforts through Senegalese troops. The United States also provides economic and technical assistance.

 “Since its independence, Senegal has been one of America’s strongest and most consistent friends in francophone West Africa,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said in a statement in February 2012.

Fun Fact: The lion is the national symbol of Senegal.

National pride: The national anthem is “Pincez Tous vos Koras, Frappez les Balafons,” which means “Pluck your koras, strike the balafons.” Koras are stringed instruments; balafons are a type of xylophone. Listen to the anthem here by going to the national anthem section.

Sources: CIA World FactbookState DepartmentLonely Planet; U.S. Embassy Senegal

Africa Snapshot: Cameroon

Cameroon lies at the junction of western and central Africa. The nation is currently hosting this year’s Africa Endeavor, an annual 1n-day communications exercise focusing on interoperability and information sharing among African partners.  The goal of Africa Endeavor is to develop command, control, and communication tactics, techniques, and procedures that can be used by the African Union in support of future combined humanitarian, peacekeeping, peace support and anti-terrorism operations.

Population: According to the CIA World Factbook, the population will be around 20 million this summer.

Languages: English and French are the official languages of Cameroon, but there are 24 major African language groups in the country, as well.

Religion: 40% of the population practices indigenous beliefs.  Another 40% of the population is Christian, while the other 20% is Muslim.

History: Malaria kept Europeans out of Cameroon until the 1860s, when they began establishing coastal trade and slave trade. Christian missions put down roots in the late 1800s, and they continue to play a role today.  In 1884, all of present-day Cameroon and parts of its neighboring areas became a colony of Germany called Kamerun.  After World War I, the colony was divided between Britain and France. In 1955, an armed struggle to gain independence in French Cameroon began. Independence was achieved in 1960.  A year later, the largely Muslim, northern two-thirds of British Cameroon voted to join Nigeria, while the largely Christian southern third voted to join the Republic of Cameroon, thus forming the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The federation was replaced with a unitary state in 1972. Paul Biya has been president since 1982. He was re-elected to another seven-year term in October 2011.

Economy: Cameroon faces some of the same challenges as other underdeveloped countries, but it does have oil resources and good conditions for agriculture. Foreign investors have become interested in diamond mining projects in Cameroon. Because Cameroon has one of the worst business environments in the world, many foreign investors do not pursue business ventures with the country. Human trafficking is also a serious issue.

Geography: Although Cameroon may look tiny on the map of Africa, it’s actually larger than California. Periodically, volcanos will release toxic gases. The most active volcano in West Africa is Mount Cameroon.

Relations with the United States: Relations between the two nations are good.  According to the U.S. Department of State Background Note on Cameroon, U.S. assistance to the African nation was over $26 million in 2010.

Sources: CIA Factbook State Department Background Note – Cameroon , Britannica Online, AllAfrica, Presidency of the Republic of Cameroon

Africa Snapshot: Sierra Leone

Located in West Africa, Sierra Leone is nestled between Liberia and Guinea on the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Population: According to the CIA Factbook, the estimated population for July 2012 is 5,485,998.


English is the official language of Sierra Leone, but the regular use of it is limited to the literate minority.  Mende is the vernacular in the south, and Temne is the vernacular in the north.  Krio, an English-based Creole, is spoken by the descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who settled in Freetown.  It is understood by 95% of the population.

Religion: 60% of the country is Muslim, 10% are Christians.  30% of the population practice indigenous beliefs.

History: The first slaves were brought into North America from Sierra Leone in 1652. Their rice-farming skills were in great demand by plantations in Georgia and South Carolina during the 18th century.  In the 1780s, the British returned 400 freed slaves from various parts of the world back to Sierra Leone. They settled in an area they called “Province of Freedom,” which is now the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. Britain colonized Freetown in 1792. Thousands of returning Africans, who were originally from all over Africa, settled in Freetown. They came to be known as Krio.

During the 19th century, Sierra Leone become a prime spot for education in West Africa. Modeled after European universities, Fourah Bay College was established in 1827. It became the foundation of the present-day University of Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone achieved independence from Britain peacefully in April 1961. Controversial elections in 1967 led to multiple coups.  Finally, in April 1968, Siaka Steven, the Freetown mayor and All Peoples Congress party leader, become the prime minister and the constitution was restored. Steven was the head of state until 1985, when Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh took power.

Under Steven’s leadership, the constitution was changed to ban all political parties except the All Peoples Congress. The multi-party system was restored in 1991, a Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh took power. , who practiced many abuses of power.  Eventually, a coup forced Momoh into exile in Guinea, leaving a new group, the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) as the ruling authority.

The 1990s saw much turmoil over the control of the country, including coups. A group called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) took over much of the countryside by the mid-90s and repeatedly tried to overthrow the government. Eventually, in 1999, President Kabbah and the RUF leader signed a peace agreement that included an international peacekeeping force. Fighting, though, continued into the 21st century, prompting help from Guinean troops.

In January 2002, President Kabbah declared the end to the civil war. He was re-elected in May 2002. The UN peacekeeping mission wrapped up in 2005.

Ernest Koroma was elected president of Sierra Leone in 2007. Both presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2012.

Economy: Sierra Leone relies on other countries for financial assistance. Nearly half of the country’s exports come from alluvial diamond mining. Almost half of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture.

Relationship with the United States: The United States established an embassy when Sierra Leone gained its independence in 1961.  Assistance from the U.S. focuses on health education, especially in the fight against HIV/AIDS, human rights and the development of human resources.

Sources: CIA Factbook , State Department Background Note – Sierra Leone , Britannica Online, the University of Sierra Leone

Africa Snapshot: The Gambia

The smallest country on the continent of Africa, The Gambia is surrounded by Senegal and borders the North Atlantic Ocean.  From June 4 to 8, 2012, a workshop on “Practical Tools for Surveillance, Diagnosis, Prevention and Control of Major Transboundary Animal Diseases” is being held in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia.  The workshop is supported by US Africa Command and organized by the United States Department of Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Office for West and Central Africa, in collaboration with United States Agency for International Development-United States Department of Agriculture Sanitary and Phytosanitary adviser for West Africa and the Ministry of Agriculture of The Gambia.  Epidemiologists and lab technicians from The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone will be learning practical tools for the surveillance, diagnosis, prevention and control of six transboundary animal diseases. These diseases hamper the production of livestock and constrain economic development.

Population: According to the CIA World Factbook, the population was 1.78 million in 2009.

Languages: English is the official language, but Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Jola, Sarahule and other indigenous languages are also spoken.

Religion: 90% of the population is Muslim.  8% practice Christianity, while 2% practice other religions. Gambians officially observe the holidays of both Islam and Christianity and practice religious tolerance.

History: Through written accounts of Arab traders coming through the region in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D., it is known that The Gambia was once part of the Mali and Kaabu Empires.  Arab traders established a trade route in that area for ivory, gold and slaves.  Using maritime routes, the Portuguese took over trade in the 15th century.  Exclusive trade rights to the Gambia River were sold to English merchants in the late 1500s.  In 1783, after years of struggle between England and France for control in the region, the Treaty of Versailles granted England possession of The Gambia.

It is believed that as many as 3 million slaves were taken from the region while the transatlantic slave trade operated.  In 1807, slave trade was abolished in the British Empire, and England tried unsuccessfully to abolish slave trade in The Gambia.   It finally came to an end in 1906 when slavery was abolished.  By that time, The Gambia was almost completely self-governed.

The Gambia’s troops fought with the Allies in Burma during World War II.  During this time in history, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spent the night in Banjul while en route to the Casablanca Conference.  This was the first visit to the continent by an American president in office.

Full self-government was granted in 1963, followed by independence from Great Britain in 1965.  The Gambia became a republic on April 24, 1970. The Gambia and Senegal signed a friendship and cooperation treaty in 1991, but tensions have sporadically flared between the two nations.

Economy: Agriculture accounts for 24% of the gross domestic product.  Peanuts and other crops are grown in the region, but livestock, fishing and forestry are also important.  Manufacturing activities include peanut processing, soap  and clothing.

Sources: CIA Factbook , State Department Background Note – The Gambia

Africa snapshot: Burkina Faso

Tucked between Mali and Niger in the Sahel region of western Africa, Burkina Faso is perhaps one of Africa’s least known countries. It also one of the poorest nations in the world.

Burkina Faso has the region’s largest elephant population, and vast game preserves home to lions, hippos and antelope. The culture dates back to at least the 13th century. Despite the rich history and culture, tourism remains undeveloped – the main industries are agriculture and gold mining.

Burkina Faso is host to this week’s Pandemic Response Tabletop Exercise.

Population: 16.3 million. Nearly 65 percent of the population is younger than age 25.

Capital city: Ouagadougou (Wah-guh-doo-goo). Want to sound like a local? Just call it “Ouaga.”

Religion: Predominantly Muslim, but most residents also adhere to traditional African beliefs.

Language: French is the official language, but the indigenous Moore language is more widely spoken.

Education: The literacy rate is just 15 percent for females and 30 percent for males. Ouagadougou University, the country’s first institute of higher learning, opened in 1974.

National motto: “Unity, Progress, Liberty.” The words “Burkina Faso” loosely translate to  “Land of Honest of Men” or “Land of Upright People.”

U.S. partnerships: Burkina Faso is a partner in the Africa Contingency Training and Assistance program, which focuses on military training for multinational peacekeeping missions, as well as the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, which aims to enhance counterterrorism capabilities. In fiscal year 2011, the U.S. government provided $22.5 million in assistance to Burkina Faso.

“Lonely Planet” says: “Standing at the geographical heart of West Africa, Burkina Faso (formerly Haute or Upper Volta, or just Burkina to the locals) is the sort of place that captures the imagination – how many of your friends back home even know that Burkina Faso exists?”

Sources: CIA FactBook Burkina Faso, U.S. Department of State Background Note – Burkina Faso, Oxfam Cool Planet Guidebook Burkina Faso, Lonely Planet Travel Guide

This is the latest in our “Africa Snapshot” series, which takes a brief look at the countries in the AFRICOM area of operations. Click here for previous posts.

Dispatch from Africa: Driving in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

MC1 Steve Owsley, a journalist with U.S. Africa Command, is covering the Burkina Faso Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise. The exercise, which runs May 14-18, 2012, brings together representatives from African nations, international aid organizations, and AFRICOM to practice preparation and planning in the event of a pandemic disaster, such as an influenza pandemic. MC1 Owsley sent us this dispatch as a glimpse into everyday life in Burkina Faso. Look for his stories on the tabletop exercise coming soon to our website. Read a short intro to the event here.

15 May 2012
MC1 Steve Owsley
U.S. Africa Command

The flight deck of the an aircraft carrier has been described as a chaotic and dangerous ballet: hundreds of moving parts and people, but everyone knows where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing. I’ve never seen anything like it — until I saw how people drive in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.

The roads were pretty good. They aren’t nearly as complicated as roads in the United States or Europe. Typically, they consist of a broken center line to separate two lanes of traffic and solid white lines on the left and right edges to show where the road ends.

While the roads sound simple, navigating them is not.

I was lucky to be with a group with professional hired drivers. Typically, these drivers were young men who had been driving for years. They were friendly, professional and absolutely essential to getting around in Bobo-Dioulasso.

The traffic is a mixture of cars, motorcycles, motor scooters, bicycles and carts pulled by both people and small burros.

Somehow, everyone seems to co-exist peacefully. There’s a sort of unspoken cooperation that keeps traffic moving with nearly no confrontation. Our professional drivers would lightly tap the horn to let a scooter driver know we were approaching. Without hand gestures or yelling, both SUV drivers and bicyclists took and yielded the right of way.

In the apparent chaos of the traffic, you see a pattern emerge: Everyone seems to know where they belong.

That being said, I wouldn’t want to inject myself into the traffic tangle. It made me appreciate our driver, who calmly eased our vehicle among the bicyclist, motorcycles, scooters and carts. If it sounds chaotic, it’s nothing compared to what it looks like if you’re seeing it for the first time.

Countering a threat of a different kind: The Pandemic Disaster Response program

Ninety representatives from Africa, Europe and the United States meet this week in Burkina Faso for the Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise.

Countries participating include Kenya, Senegal, Cote d’Ivorie, Benin, Ghana and Togo.

The aim is to develop national, regional and continent-wide crisis response support networks and contingency plans to deal with a pandemic health crisis, such as an influenza outbreak, or other similar disasters.

The program is hosted by the government of Burkina Faso, in conjunction with USAID, the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine and U.S. Africa Command.

AFRICOM, USAID and African partner nations have collaborated since 2008 through the Pandemic Response Program to develop pandemic influenza response plans. The potential for a deadly influenza outbreak in Africa is high because of the level of cross-border travel and trade.

Besides the humanitarian disaster such an outbreak could cause, it could also have a ripple effect on regional security and stability.

Workshops similar to the one in Burkina Faso this week have also been held in Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Tanzania.

We’ll bring you news from the conference throughout the week on our blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed and AFRICOM home page. Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas, as well.

Click the links below for more information on USAID, CDHAM and the Pandemic Response Program:

Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine fact sheet on PRP

AFRICOM PRP fact sheet

USAID fact sheet on avian and pandemic influenza

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