By Eric HilliardJanuary 23, 2009
STUTTGART, Germany -- More than 103 individuals representing 25 African Nations and the United States attended a week-long planning conference Jan. 13 - 16, 2009 in Dakar, Senegal. The conference was aimed at improving the interoperability and communications connectivity between and within the many countries in Africa.
The initial planning conference for exercise Africa Endeavor 2009 provided opportunities for each of the nations' delegates to share their communication concerns and learn about the concerns and challenges of their neighboring countries.
Each country represented at the conference has a huge stake in what will come out of their collective efforts--the development of a fully functional African Union African Standby Force capable of conducting peacekeeping, disaster relief, humanitarian assistance crisis prevention and disaster relief operations throughout the African continent.
Over the course of the week, several presentations were made by select individuals. One presentation on U.S. AFRICOM by African Union representative, Lt. Col. Wilson Tembo, provoked much discussion.
Tembo spoke about the need for effective communications between the nations and at all levels. He also spoke about the challenges impacting the African Union's ability to accomplish its missions.
According to Tembo, the primary challenges facing the AU are a lack of adequate equipment and a lack of personnel.
"We have a good communication plan and architecture that shows how things should be set up but, we do not have the necessary equipment to make it a reality. This is a problem that we see in our mission in Somalia," he said. "We do not have the necessary communications links essential for keeping in touch with our people in order to follow their progress. We came up with a workaround solution, but that is still not sufficient."
As one of less than a handful of communication officers representing the AU, Tembo expressed concerns about the lack of personnel assigned to support the communications cell. "Many of the other operations and planning cells have more people but not the communications cell," he said.
In regards to U.S. Africa command, Tembo said, "I am very happy about the U.S. government and U.S. Africa Command's initiative in this Africa Endeavor exercise. This initiative provided the requisite capacity in bringing the many countries together to share experiences, knowledge and it is helping us (Africans) learn how to do these things on our own."
In line with those concerns, developers of the Africa Endeavor exercise series established several specific program objectives for assisting the AU. These objectives include developing African-owned, secure Command, Control, Communication, and Information Systems (C3IS) capabilities for the AU African Standby Force and assisting in the planning and development of a self-sustaining training and maintenance capability. The program is designed to assist and enable the African people to develop for themselves a concept of operations for effective use of critical C3IS systems
"Initially there was some mistrust by some of the leaders on the continent. They thought that the command would try to find ways to put more U.S. forces on the continent and establish a base here in Africa. They did not know or fully understand the aims and objectives of U.S. Africa Command," Tembo said. "It is imperative on behalf of all of us who participated in this Africa Endeavor conference to go back to our leadership and explain what the Africa Command is all about, in hopes of allaying any of those fears."
Speaking from the command's headquarters, a U.S. Africa Command spokesman, Vince Crawley, said the command is focused on partnerships.
"Our stated command objectives talk about partnerships and capacity building. In no way is the command interested in becoming an occupying force on the continent of Africa," Crawley said. "Africa Endeavor is an exercise that enables better communication between African nations, regional organizations and their partners. Communications exercises such as this are conducted throughout the world, not just in Africa. Fundamentally, we believe that enabling the ability of people to communicate with each other, to talk together, is a first step toward strengthening trust, confidence and partnerships."
Overall exercise director for AE-09, Lt. Col. Robert Watson, said, "We have a fantastic and unique opportunity to bring together the critical elements of success to build the mechanisms that will allow us to share information. Africa Endeavor at its essence is about people and processes intent on developing a highly capable cadre of African-led leaders and communicators."
In all, exercise Africa Endeavor provides participants with the opportunity to build cross-border working relationships with individuals from similar technical backgrounds while facilitating a positive training environment wherein participating nations are able to refine their data networking skills in order to enhance their country's communications capability.