The No. 1 priority for the commander of the United States Africa Command, which works to advance the national security interests of the U.S., is the “continuing challenge” of violent extremist organizations across the continent.
“It is the growing network of collaboration and synchronization amongst the various violent extremist organizations which I think poses the greatest threat to regional stability, more broadly across Africa, certainly into Europe and to the United States as well,” Gen. Carter Ham said.
On Monday, Gen. Ham discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. in Africa in the “Counterterrorism in Africa” event hosted by the George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute and held in Duques Hall.
AFRICOM’s work, Gen. Ham said, is guided by two simple principles. The first is that a “safe, stable, secure Africa is in the best interest not only of the African countries but of our country as well.”
The second is the belief that Africans themselves are best able to address African security challenges. “African solutions to African problems,” Gen. Ham said. “We firmly believe in that.”
Other priorities for the command, Gen. Ham said, include maintaining global access, building internal capacity, contributing to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts and preventing and responding to mass atrocities.
Still, it’s not all “doom and gloom” in Africa, the general said. The continent, while presenting risks and challenges, is an “exciting place to work, a place of great opportunity.” Gen. Ham said that through his travels to 42 countries in the continent, he has gained an optimism for its future.
“With a little bit of help, a little bit of collaboration, a little bit of synchronization … these problems can be effectively dealt with,” Gen. Ham said. “It’s not going to be easy, but there’s recognition that there are solutions to many of these problems, as hard as they may be.”
In opening Monday’s discussion, Frank Cilluffo, director of HSPI, told the audience that counterterrorism is still an issue the U.S. must take very seriously.
“I think for some, with respect to Africa, this came to light with the tragic events in Benghazi,” he said. “But as Gen. Ham knows, this is an issue that has been challenging the United States and others for quite some time.”
Although the threat of terrorism exists, the country has the “best people and the most dedicated and devoted people” to deal with it, Mr. Cilluffo said.
That includes Gen. Ham, whom Russell Ramsey, B.B.A. ’81, chairman of the GW Board of Trustees said in his introduction is a “skilled practitioner and respected leader” who is “truly one of the great self-made generals,” having started his career as an enlisted infantryman.
Gen. Ham closed his address with an African proverb he said he found especially relevant to AFRICOM’s work.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” he said. “We at U.S. Africa Command have chosen to go far, and we’ve chosen to go in partnership with the Africans as we seek to address our common problems.”