Congolese delegation gets AFRICOM facts firsthand
August 1, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany - A delegation of senior media representatives from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) visited U.S. Africa Command headquarters July 26-30, 2010, as part of the command's Public Information Partnership (PIP) initiative.
U.S. Africa Command seeks opportunities to host African academic, civic leader and media delegations, like the DRC media delegation, to provide African audiences in-depth and personal insight into the command's programs and activities in Africa.
The group consisted of four editors of prominent media organizations in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the third largest country in Africa. Joining the group was the president of a human rights nongovernmental organization based in Kisangani, the location of an ongoing U.S. train and equip mission.
They admitted they didn't know much about the command before their visit, but by learning first-hand about the command's mission and strategy, their understanding developed.
During the week-long orientation, the group received in-depth briefings on the command, its programs and how it engages with the DRC as well as other African militaries.
"Now that I've had explanation on what the command is, I'm convinced on the intellectual level," said Freddy Mulumba Kabuayi, editorial director of the independent newspaper Le Potentiel.
The impetus behind this visit is the ongoing U.S. training and equipping mission with a light infantry battalion in Kisangani, the third largest city in the Congo. The mission, part of a long-term effort by the international community to promote security sector reform in the country, will assist the DRC government in its ongoing efforts to transform the Armed Forces of the DRC (Forces ArmAfAes de la RAfApublique DAfAmocratique du Congo, widely known as FARDC). The U.S. is conducting this training program at the request of the Congolese government.
U.S. Africa Command's Special Operations Command component has provided on-the-ground oversight of the training program for the battalion at a Congolese installation called Camp Base in Kisangani. The program includes small unit tactics, food preparation, maintenance, medical care and first aid, logistics support, human rights, HIV/AIDS prevention and communications.
The group was offered the opportunity to interview Gen. William E. Ward, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, who said he wanted them to know more about the command and its work in Africa.
"What we seek to do as we attain and achieve mutual objectives is also something that we want you to be fully informed of," Ward said. "But most importantly, we want those to be the same goals that you would also have for your people and stability and peace in your [country.]"
The journalists said they knew of the training program in Kisangani, but having learned about the command's mission, they now have a broader understanding of Africa Command activities in the Congo and throughout Africa.
"Coming here I had a very vague idea of what the command was. I had a better idea of the exterior presentation of the command as opposed to what it really is," said Jose Nawej, Forum des As newspaper.
Rounding out their understanding of the command, the group travelled to Ramstein Air Base to meet Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, commander of U.S. Air Forces Africa and 17th Air Force. They also toured American Forces Network studios in Mannheim, Germany, and met with European Stars and Stripes staff in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
In the heart of Africa, the Congo's growth is important for the eventual development of all Africa, the group pointed out during discussions.
"Development in Congo will have positive effects on United States and our world community," said Mankenda Voka, editor of Kinshasa's L'Observateur newspaper.
Dismas Kitenge Senga, who is head of the Kisangani-based nongovernmental organization Groupe Lotus and vice president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, said he now has a better understanding of the different roles of AFRICOM and what it can and cannot do.
"I never realized that AFRICOM was so well organized, so well structured...I'm able to see that in Stuttgart," Senga said through a translator. "It's very important that people understand that they can't place all their hopes in AFRICOM. A lot of what needs to happen is in the hands of the government of Congo. AFRICOM is a partner who can bring help and assistance to African militaries."
In addition to learning about the command through meeting and talking with various staff officers, the group also interviewed Major General Richard Sherlock, AFRICOM's director of strategy, plans and programs.
Sherlock said the training program in Kisangani is "very important as one of many steps" in what he hopes to be a long-term relationship between the U.S. and the DRC.
He has visited Camp Base twice to review the training program, and told the group, "I have been very impressed with the training of the battalion and the way that the Congolese soldiers at all levels have taken into the training and have conducted their training."
Ward told the group the command is a listening and learning organization and does not impose U.S. will on its partners.
"Our primary objective and goal is to be a good partner; and a partner expresses itself in many ways, but most importantly, the huge respect that we have for one another," Ward said. "And I assure you that from my perspective, the respect that we have for our African partners, the sovereignty of the nations, is something that's absolutely at the top of the list."