Increased regional cooperation is crucial for addressing the irregular security threats facing Eastern Africa, senior officials from the United States and Uganda told participants at the January 28 launch of a workshop titled "Improving Regional Responses to Transnational and Irregular Threats in Eastern Africa."
Co-hosted by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies and the government of Uganda in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the five-day workshop brought together 35 officials from Eastern African governments, regional and international organizations, and international partner nations.
"In the Eastern Africa region, transnational and irregular threats like maritime piracy, terrorism, cybercrime and identity theft, counterfeiting, money laundering, trafficking in arms, drugs and humans continue to pose serious challenges to regional security dynamics," Justice Steven B.K. Kavuma, a justice in the Constitutional Court of Uganda, said in his keynote address.
"These challenges are not confined to individual countries," added Asuman Kiyingi, state minister for regional cooperation in the Ugandan Cabinet. "They are spread across the region and therefore require some level of integrated defense/security system in order to effectively contain them."
"The long history of conflicts experienced by the region has weakened the capacity of individual states to address transnational and irregular threats," Kavuma said, adding that Eastern African states could compensate for insufficient capacity by working through regional and sub-regional institutions.
Security cooperation, he said, is already a top priority for numerous regional and sub-regional organizations in Eastern Africa. "Regional and sub-regional bodies ... including the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the East African Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region have recognized that peace and security is a prerequisite to meaningful and effective collaboration in combating transnational and irregular threats," he said. "Enhancing security or reducing insecurity in the Eastern Africa region is, therefore, a high priority for all these organizations and other stakeholders in the region."
U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi lauded the progress that regional organizations have made toward improving security cooperation, but warned that the tools developed to combat insecurity, if incorrectly employed, can threaten peace and stability.
"These regional African communities have made great efforts and strides toward peace and security cooperation in recent years," DeLisi said. "Progress such as this is commendable, and we applaud it. However, it is also fragile."
"As nations move forward to address threats to peace and stability, they must also ensure that the tools they use to combat these threats do not become the threats themselves," DeLisi warned. "Strong, professional militaries are essential to regional security. ... If, however, those militaries threaten that prosperity, if they do not support the democratic institutions they are meant to uphold, then the foundation of our efforts crumbles, and East Africa risks falling back into the bloody cycle of revolution and counter revolution."