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November 7, 2022

8th Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa

8th Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa:

Remarks by US Head of Delegation-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Africa Chidi Blyden

Plenary One: Stability and Sovereignty in the Face of Exogenous Shocks

(Check against Delivery)

Opening: Thank you to Moderator Monsieur Sidikou.[ I’d like to extend my appreciation and thanks to President Macky Sall and the people of Senegal for hosting the 8th annual forum focused on issues that concern anyone that holds Africa near and dear to their heart. I would also like to acknowledge distinguished heads of state and cabinet level guest from the African continent, Europe, Asia, as well as individuals from the private sphere gathered here today to find ways to develop solutions that will produce an Africa that is secure, prosperous and influential on the global scene.]

The moderator opened up with a brief history, which I think provides the right “chapeau” for this panel and an opportunity to share the US approach.

To echo the sentiments of participants during the high-level panel, the Forum’s theme of stability and sovereignty in the face of exogenous shocks is a very timely one. The United States is fully aware of and engaged on the various challenges on the continent today, and I am glad to share the USG approach on addressing these shared global challenges, as a daughter of the continent. Forums like this allow us the opportunity to learn from each other, share lessons, best practices, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY LEARN FROM OUR PREVIOUS MISTAKES. I am here today to share that the US’ recalibrated approach will not only seek to empower the African continent in the field of security, but will also endeavor to provide the tools needed to find solutions in the fields of development and diplomacy to address the drivers of instability and conflict to meet the ambition and promise of Africa.

In this vein, the US will work to employ a “ whole of government approach “ to empower our African partners to tackle the threat and security challenges that we ALL face such as VEOs, instability, pandemics, food insecurity , democratic backsliding, climate change, environmental degradation and others. The US follows a series of strategic documents that serve as a guiding mechanism for prioritizing our engagements and policies in Africa.

  • Starting with the Department of Defense newly released National Defense Strategy (NDS), we will prioritize (1) countering VEOs; (2) strengthening allies and partners to support mutual security objectives; and (3) addressing targeted strategic competition concerns that would have negative ramifications  for the US and our partners;
  • In addition to the aforementioned national defense priorities, the US will further engage with Sub Saharan Africa through a framework outlined in the recently unveiled National Security Council’s “ US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa”. This Africa Strategy will refocus US through 4 lines of efforts (1) delivering Democratic and security dividends; (2) advancing pandemic recovery and economic opportunity ; (3) supporting conservation, climate change adaptations for strengthening a just energy transition and (4) strengthening our bilateral and multilateral partnership in Africa. Under this strategy, the DOD will work un a 3D (Development, Defense, Diplomacy)

and will seek to refine our defense tools to support our partners. Some of these tools include supporting institutional capacity building, combating corruption, advancing security sector reform, enhancing our partner’s ability to lead and promote peace and security, leveraging civilian-led defense institutions, and building partner capacity and capability to deliver the security necessary for democracy to thrive.

Our approach has been carefully recalibrated to place Africans in the lead, by developing organic, localized solutions.  It is no secret that every African country has developed niche capabilities that others can learn and benefit from or that can be utilized in other parts of the continent. As such, we will encourage you to leverage your comparative advantages in the field of security and defense and ask you to tell us where we can assist. Further, we will continue to build existing capabilities of African partners on the continent. I am often encouraged by the increased frequency in cross-collaboration between various regions in Africa. For example, in Mozambique, the SADC members’ intervention and response to the crisis in Cabo Delgado has demonstrated that African partners continue to have the will and capacity to provide capabilities such as air lift, training and even equipment to help fight violent extremism. The US wants to support these solutions as it is improves interoperability among Africa’s regional security leaders and continues the tradition of Africans being first responders to African crises.

But as President Lourenco said earlier, the military solution alone cannot provide sustainable stability. We will work across our agency partners (Commerce, USAID, State), the private sector, and foreign defense industries to further integrate Africa at every level of global development and supply chains. We will seek to leverage our dynamic American private sector and those of our allies and partners to support our whole-of-government efforts. For example, the U.S. has developed multiple programs such as Power Africa- to help grow the energy sector, Digital initiatives for Africa- to help close the gap on technology, the digital divide and cyber security challenges, and Prosper Africa to help facilitate the type of development and investment that will compete with the growing population and economic needs of the fastest growing continent.

Unequivocally, the U.S. will seek to empower African nations by mitigating exogenous and external threats by presenting itself and its allies as Africa’s partners of choice. Let me be clear, from our role as a permanent member of the security council, the United States supports the inclusion of permanent African seats on the UN Security Council – as President Biden announced in his speech during the UN General Assembly. In my role as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs in the Department of Defense, I hear from many of our international partners;  many of whom who are here today. They have expressed their intention and desire to partner in Africa with Africans. In my opinion, this presents the African continent with many options to diversify and choose partners who share their interests and values. If there is one thing Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has taught us is that there is a collective need to mitigate external threats, reduce foreign reliance on commodities such as foreign energy and grain imports and diversify foreign partners to ensure we are properly insulated from these shocks. It has also called us to renew multilateral efforts for collective security options -as well as examine whether actors who act aggressively and unilaterally-genuinely have shared and mutual interest in global peace, security and stability.

Finally, security exists to enable prosperous societies. We believe it is vital to bring to the table all of society, especially those that are the most vulnerable to conflict. For more than two decades Women, Peace, and Security programs have empowered women and young girls to have a voice in both domestic and international security concerns. As a woman who has experienced war, but also benefited from the deliberate action plans and efforts to bring women’s voices to the table- I can tell you first hand ,WE, as a global community need to ensure they continue to be included in every discourse. As a defense official it also crucial to actively build trust between the citizenry and security forces. Community-based dialogues have shown promise by empowering local leaders to work together with each other and the state to ensure security dividends exist in the peripheries and marginalized communities with the help of state security actors. Both entities must interact with one another to foster trust and commitment for strong societies.

In conclusion, I am proud to say the U.S. approach to Africa is in alignment with the theme of both the Forum and this panel. Our goal is to enable the development of implementable solutions that are centered around what Africa nations desire and we believe we as partners-can provide. Security is inextricably linked to development, creating economic opportunities, and empowering both African societies. So I hope the deliberations in the workshops will produce implementable and executable ideas.

  • For those participants in Workshop No. 1 which discusses “Reforming the security and the capability challenges of the army” please consider ways African countries may have the solution to addressing capability gaps;
  • For those attending Workshop no. 2 to discuss solutions to VEOs, think about how to leverage every aspect of society in a holistic fashion to combat extremism to include the youth, women, minority groups, and community/religious leaders in the conflict resolution process
  • For those attending Workshop No. 3 “ community responses to stability challenges,” please consider the sacred bond between security forces and the community they serve and think about how that bond can be protected and strengthened.

In Krio, my mother’s native tongue from Sierra Leone, they we say “wen problem kin deh, nar foh luk unda u foot”. Which loosely translates to mean that when/if there’s problem look where you standing. Some of the problem reside there but more importantly the solution probably resides there as well- within you. The continent is full of African solutions to global problems. I have benefited from education on the continent and the United States the rest of the world should too. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this forum.