Military commanders in diplomacy and defence

guest column Pearl Matibe

THE Africa Land Forces Summit 2019 (ALFS) jointly hosted by the United States Army Africa and Botswana Defence Forces aimed at strengthening partnerships between military forces of African countries with the US military ended in Gaborone on June 27. The theme of this year’s summit was Strengthening partner networks.

Zimbabwe was not invited.

Instead, on Sunday June 23, Shaw Kgathi of the Botswana Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, welcomed more than 40 of Africa’s top military force commanders, along with
political and military leaders as well as academic scholars to the seventh ALFS in Gaborone, Botswana. ALFS is a four-day seminar that brings together land-force chiefs from across
Africa to discuss topics of common interest, candid dialogue and develop co-operative solutions to regional and transregional challenges and threats. The US engages and trains them
in hopes of achieving positive diplomacy, development and defence outcomes.

US Army major general Roger L Cloutier, commander of US Army Africa stated: “It was really a productive week of focused effort where we addressed regional security challenges. We shared best practices and collaborated on solutions to tackle those challenges and reminded that many of the threats that we face today have no boundaries. They cross borders, destabilise regions and sometimes they require significant co-operation when planning for a response. The land forces have an important role in addressing these challenges, but no one country can do it alone.”

Cloutier stressed that militaries must work together with a civilian government leading them towards developing solutions that not only are military-focused, but encompass diplomatic, economic and developmental efforts.

Major general Molefi Seikano, the ground forces commander of the Botswana Defence Force, confirmed that the takeaway for the African military chiefs was the innovative solutions which the land forces will take home to address some of their own problems as well as address continental issues.

At the conclusion of this US Army Africa premier event — a summit of Africa’s high-ranking army chiefs — Cloutier confirmed that the US was able “to conduct bilateral engagements, multilateral engagements and ready to strengthen the already-existing relationships we had with many of the countries on the African continent and to forge new ones”.

With the rise of insurgency in northern Mozambique, Cloutier has confirmed that the topic of how to address this was discussed during the summit and that such threats could be defeated through militaries that collaborate with each other.

The conference was attended by land force chiefs from across Africa, with the aim of discussing best practices for counter terrorism, humanitarian relief and other shared challenges.

What is the Africa Land Forces?

ALFS is a premiere engagement opportunity that brings together land forces chiefs of staff from African nations and military leaders from the US Army to discuss topics impacting African militaries.

ALFS has grown over the years. This year, the summit had more participation from US Army Africa allies and partners than ever before. In total, the representation was from approximately
50 countries across the globe that brought together US allies and partners from over 40 countries in Africa, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Brazil, Portugal, the African Union and
nearly all United States National Guard State sponsorship programmes. Cloutier stressed that this was about the “3D approach, you know, diplomacy, development and defence”.

The world is changing. Africa’s militaries should be well-trained and strengthen their partnerships.

How does the US Army Africa along with the ALFS hope to resolve co-operative solutions to regional and transregional challenges and threats to successful outcomes since Zimbabwe now
chairs the Sadc Politics, Defense and Security portfolio, but was absent at the Africa Land Forces Summit held in a Sadc neighbouring State?

How does Sadc hope to be successful if Zimbabwe was excluded?
Major general Molefi Seikano, the ground forces commander of the Botswana Defence Force, has been quick to stand in support of the Zimbabwe.

“First and foremost, Zimbabwe is one of the Sadc members States, and there is no way we are going to leave Zimbabwe or Sadc out when we are addressing issues of security in the region,
because Zimbabwe’s problems are our problems too.”

He defended Zimbabwe’s inclusion, saying, “Zimbabwe was part of this summit. It was represented in this summit. So, the issue of continued engagement between Zimbabwe and the Republic of Botswana, from a strategic point of view by our chiefs, presidents, and defence chiefs remains vital so that we come up with areas where we need to co-operate with Zimbabwe; to help
Zimbabwe recover from its socioe-conomic conditions. Because we do understand that for some time, Zimbabwe has had a rough time. It requires a regional solution. And we as African
member States, we have to ensure that we invest in engagement and any other formal systems to develop capacity for Zimbabwe to be able to address its socio-economic problems.”

On the other hand, Cloutier consistently reiterated that: “We work by, with and through our Africa partners. So, that means most of the activities are conducted by our African partners, with the support of the US and through co-operative relationships.”

The ground force commander of the Botswana Defence Force, major general Molefi Seikano, said the “summit provided good framework to come up with innovative and concrete solutions to Africa’s security problems.”

Additional discussions and training looked at emergency situations and how the military can provide civil support. The US Army Africa, alongside Botswana Defence Force service members, discussed and trained on medical evacuation procedures. Cloutier wanted to stress the training they provided during the summit, saying: ”We do training to help prepare African militaries who are deploying in support of peacekeeping or peace-support operations, things such as medical training, counter IED training, those type of things.”
The four-day summit that ended Thursday, June 27, was remarkably dominated by male land force chiefs.

Due to the current state of Zimbabwe-US relations, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces have missed a valuable opportunity to actively participate, grow their capacity and trust networks. This was a great chance to strengthen their institution while collaborating to deal with the complex security challenges that a modern military faces; inter-operability is key.

Cloutier made it clear: “Whether internal or external, across the continent, really across the globe, it’s about the 3D approach, diplomacy, development and defence.”

The summit had a full slate of military leaders where networking and capacitation would have benefited Zimbabwe — the country needs visionary and capacitated military leaders.

Who will they be?

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