Article by Vino Roy, Photos by Sgt. 1st Class Skye Talkington
Posted May 7, 2010
The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Leadership Development and Education for Sustained Peace (LDESP) conducted a seminar on the Great Lakes region of Africa for members of the United States Army Africa (USARAF). The seminar, which ran from March 30 – April 1 and was conducted in Vicenza, Italy, provided USARAF participants with an overview of U.S. objectives and geopolitical and cultural frameworks for the Great Lakes region.
At the seminar, participants discussed key issues with regional experts in an effort to build a framework for short and long-term engagement with regional partners, according to retired Col. Bob Tomasovic, the Director of LDESP.
“We brought together subject matter experts from leading academic institutions in the United States, Europe and Africa; U.S. government agencies; the military and the private sector who offered varied perspectives on enabling Africans to find solutions that are based on African initiatives,” Tomasovic said. “We always try to bring in speakers with diverse viewpoints to the command to share ideas and thoughts that will help participants understand different perspectives within the region.”
Seminar participants were also quite knowledgeable about the region. Over the past year, USARAF soldiers have taken part in several humanitarian disaster relief exercises and military-to-military engagements in the Great Lakes region and across the African continent.
“The dynamic interaction of an already informed and experienced audience with experts on the region in areas including economics, health, security, politics and culture, benefits participants and presenters alike,” said Dr. Jim Hentz, a presenter at the seminar and professor at Virginia Military Institute. “The open-ended exchange among all the attendees provides some answers, but more importantly, generates new questions, even as it points to where and how to start looking for the answers to those questions.”
The seminar concluded with a series of discussions outlining potential areas, roles and mechanisms for engaging U.S. partners in the Great Lakes region.
“Over the past three days, our staff was presented with several regional topics focused on the Great Lakes Region of Africa, an area that is the epicenter of many conflicts and problems, but as we have learned, one of great potential as well,” said Maj. Keith McKinley, an USARAF participant at the seminar.
Using the information gained during the seminar, the USARAF participants have begun to re-assess their military engagement and capacity-building assistance plans in an effort to enhance their methods for assisting partner countries in finding African solutions to African problems.
“I am now able to reorient my professional development and personal reading on Africa toward the topics that generated questions with better understanding and background,” said McKinley.
Policymakers have noted that informed and sustained U.S. diplomatic engagement in the Great Lakes area of Africa has led to security sector reform, economic cooperation and greater stability in the region - things desperately needed in an area that has suffered from more than a decade of conflict.
Educational opportunities like those offered through LDESP, are helping leaders deal with residual issues from years of conflict, including armed rebel groups active in the region, ongoing tribal conflicts, massive population movements and tensions over land and valuable minerals.
“We must continue to invest the time and effort required to understand the educational needs of USARAF to ensure that our leaders are better prepared to partner with African states and regional and sub-regional security organizations to help foster stability and prosperity throughout the continent and the regions,” said Tomasovic.
The LDESP program provides military leaders with the knowledge needed to understand the specific operational environments. LDESP faculty members regularly teach courses for deployed and deploying units to help troops better understand the people and places where they find themselves working.