CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti – More than 30 U.S. State Department officials, representing 12 East Africa countries, joined military leaders from the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) for an East Africa Security Forum at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 11-13.
Leaders at CJTF-HOA hosted the forum, which provided a platform for U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. State Department and U.S National Security Council representatives to meet face-to-face to discuss regional security, stability and prosperity.
“Having trilateral discussions between chiefs of mission, with input from our defense attachés, and from the AFRICOM folks stationed here in Djibouti can help us see a little bit clearer where things may be heading, so we’re not caught by surprise,” said Amb. Peter Vrooman, U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda.
The forum also bolstered Defense Department and State Department integration in their efforts to provide stability to African partner nations in the CJTF-HOA combined joint operations area.
“I learned a lot from my military colleagues these last couple of days,” said Makila James, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Africa and the Sudans, based in Washington D.C. “I’m sure they learned a lot from their state colleagues, and we need to build that civil/military cooperation because that’s the platform for doing all the work we do – whether it’s development, security reform, dealing with security threats, we need to have that cooperation and understand what tools each agency brings to the table.”
Military leaders attending the conference also gained a new understanding for the challenges their State Department colleagues regularly face.
“Travel throughout the twelve East African countries in the CJTF-HOA area of responsibility, for visits with the country teams, can be a challenge,” said Maj. Gen. James D. Craig, commanding general of CJTF-HOA. “The forum provided us with an incredible opportunity to have ambassadors, chargés, and defense attachés from each country in the region, as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary Makila James and National Security Director Luis Mendez, all in the same room to discuss the challenges and opportunities throughout East Africa that affect us all.”
The conference included discussion panels and briefings on a spectrum of topics with the security of East Africa as a main focus. In addition to affording attendees an opportunity to discuss shared concerns, the conference also gave them a chance to share best practices.
“I appreciate the opportunity to pick the brains of my colleagues, and to get their perspective on, in some cases, shared issues that go across our own borders and to see how they’re dealing with them,” said Amb. Deborah Malac, U.S. Ambassador to Uganda. “You can do this over the phone; you can do this by email, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face conversation, which allows for a natural progression of questions to help really explore things more in-depth.”
Other State Department representatives agreed that meeting in-person was critical to meaningful discussion and collaboration between forum attendees.
“The most important thing you learn from a gathering like this is that we have a lot to learn from each other,” James said. “It’s the interagency collaboration that’s so important for our foreign policy.”