STUTTGART, Germany, Nov 28, 2012 — Ambassador Christopher Dell, deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, U.S. Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM), spoke with journalists from Burkina Faso and Niger during their visit to AFRICOM headquarters November 26-30, 2012, at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany.
An edited transcript follows:
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AMBASSADOR DELL: "So I thought if I could, I might begin a little bit this morning by explaining who I am and why it is I'm sitting here wearing a suit and tie at a military a U.S. military command. And because I was warned in advance you're such a tough audience, I brought along reinforcements here: my colleague, also from the State Department, Ambassador Helen La Lime, who also works here at AFRICOM. So any hard questions, I'm going to turn to her and let her answer. (Laughter.)
Helen is also almost native French speaker, so and I know you've been around for several days, so I won't belabor the history of AFRICOM. You know that it was set up five years ago with the concept of being different from the other U.S. military combatant commands. The concept was that AFRICOM would make one of its principal focuses, if not the principal focus, engagement with the continent of Africa.
The philosophical idea underlying AFRICOM is that it is Africans themselves who are in the best position to provide security on the continent of Africa. AFRICOM does not exist to command Africans. Africans don't need to be commanded by anybody from outside of Africa. AFRICOM exists to command U.S. military forces in efforts involved in helping Africans develop their own security.
It was also understood that in order for us to engage effectively with Africa, given the diversity of challenges that the continent faces, each individual country faces, we needed what it was popularly called a whole-of-government approach. The entirety of the U.S. government needs to engage on questions of security in Africa, not simply the U.S. military.
Let me make that real for you as one specific example of many possible ones: the problem of HIV/AIDS as it affects African militaries. In our view, this has the potential and I think most of you would agree can undermine security within a country if the armed forces are devastated by AIDS. The U.S. military is very good at military medicine. It doesn't necessarily have the expertise in the United States government for dealing with the AIDS epidemic. Our expertise resides in the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Center for Disease Control, our public health service. And so AFRICOM includes representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development, for example, who help with humanitarian assistance, with military medicine, if you will, helping the African militaries develop their response to the AIDS epidemic within the ranks of their service members, men and women.
I'm here as the deputy to the commander for civil-military affairs in order to have a senior diplomat involved at the highest decision-making levels of the command to ensure appropriate coordination with that entire range of U.S. government agencies, from the U.S. Geological Survey to AID to Department of Energy and a whole raft of others in between, and above all, to ensure that what AFRICOM is doing in terms of security cooperation, security partnerships in Africa is consistent with the broader objectives of U.S. foreign policy. So I spend a lot of time coordinating with the State Department about what AFRICOM is doing in Africa.
So that's who I am, that's why I'm here, that's what we're doing, and that's I hope given you at least something of a flavor of the approach that AFRICOM takes to the challenges of security in Africa today.
With that as background, I'm prepared to answer any questions you might have, specifically about my functions here, about the role of AFRICOM or whatever else is on your mind. I hope we can focus on questions concerning Africa. If you want to ask me about yesterday's resolution on Palestine at the U.N. (laughter) I'm going to say, I'm not the person that knows the answer to that question; contact the State Department spokesperson.
STAFF: Sir, we'll begin right here with (inaudible)
AMBASSADOR DELL: Please.
QUESTION: (Through interpreter.) Since I'm the first one to speak, I will thank you, Your Excellency, for talking being with us and talking to us on behalf of the whole delegation. We are very happy and honored.
AMBASSADOR DELL: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Through interpreter.) Usually when we hear ambassadors, it's usually someone who represents a country. As an ambassador but also considering the role you're playing as part of a command, how does how did that enrich your experience because of what you do as part of this team?
MR. DELL: Right. First, let me say, I mean, the title is an honorific. I'm not actually a confirmed ambassador sitting here before you today serving in an ambassadorial job at this command. I'm on detail to the Department of Defense as a civilian employee of the United States Department of State representing the State Department to the U.S. military, if you will.
I've served as ambassador twice in Africa, in Angola and Zimbabwe. And I think that answers your question in part. The U.S. military historically has had relatively limited engagement with Africa. We don't have a great professional body of serving officers who have lived and worked in and with Africa for a long time. I have lived and worked in Africa for nine years of my career. Ambassador La Lime has served there many times, was raised in Africa as a small girl. So we bring a certain amount of real-world African experience with us. We've lived there; we've wrestled with these problems.
I hope that we have a broader perspective from that experience beyond just military questions to understanding really Africa as a continent, the various countries, the broad challenges your societies face, and recognizing they're all very different, of course.
And frankly, there's a difference between looking at Africa as a military problem, as a map where you face security challenges and approaching it as a military problem and understanding Africa as countries, as societies, as people. And I think that that perspective
Source: AFRICOM Public Affairs