Remarks by Ambassador Palmer at the Closing Ceremony of the 2017 African Land Forces Summit

May 11, 2017.

His Excellency Vincent Winstone Ghambi, Deputy Minister of Defense

  • General Griffin Spoon Phiri, Commander of the Malawi Defense Force
  • Major General Joseph Harrington, Commanding General, United States Army Africa
  • Land Forces Commanders
  • General Officers
  • Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

I am truly honored to join you all today at the closing ceremony of the 2017 African Land Forces Summit.  I stand before military leaders from more than 40 African nations who have gathered to discuss and debate the most serious challenges facing the continent today.  You are the guardians of your homelands and the protectors of our collective security.  I am proud to be among you at this important gathering.

I would like to start my remarks by thanking the organizers of this Summit, Major General Harrington’s exceptional team from U.S. Army Africa led by Lt. Col. Hector Montemayor and Mr. Manny Melendez who have worked hand-in-hand for many months with our Malawi Defense Force hosts led by Brigadier General Paul Phiri and his team.  Countless others from Malawi, the United States, and partner nations from across the continent assisted them to make this a well-planned and well-executed event.  Your work has been outstanding and we are all very grateful.

I am pleased that the theme of the 2017 African Land Forces Summit, “Enhancing Capacity through Partnership in Africa,” reflected our joint priorities.  It is only through partnership that we can, together, better address existing conflicts and prevent future ones.  No one country or military can do it alone.  We need each other as we strive to secure our future.  The United States proudly partners with our African allies to enhance security on the African continent and beyond through programs to enhance national security, counter terrorism, and curtail the trafficking of illicit goods.

Nowhere is this partnership more apparent than in joint peacekeeping operations across the continent.  Numerous African militaries, many represented here today, have bravely stepped up to contribute troops and experience.  Current peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Mali, Darfur, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where our Malawian hosts are currently deployed, have saved countless lives and allowed space for diplomatic intervention.  And this is just one example of partnerships in action.

I think it is fitting that as we meet in Lilongwe this week to discuss African partnerships, the Foreign Ministers from over 40 African countries are assembling in Kigali to discuss reforms to the African Union.  These two gatherings reflect two sides of the same coin – the commitment by African civilian and military leaders to develop and implement appropriate and sustainable solutions to African issues.  As my good friend, General Spoon Phiri said in his remarks opening this Summit, professional and accountable African militaries, following the rule of law and subject to democratically elected governments, will play a vital role in a whole-of-government approach to ensuring peace and stability, whether that means maintaining border security, combatting international trafficking networks or fighting against communicable diseases.

In my time as U.S. Ambassador to Malawi, I have had the pleasure to observe firsthand the emphasis the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) places on strengthening its capabilities through partnerships with the United States and other countries, through international training programs, domestic training programs such as the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, and UN Peacekeeper training and deployment.  Each year the MDF sends dozens of soldiers to the United States and other countries for training, honing critical skills that those officers bring back to Malawi to enhance the greater force.  Each year since 2014 the MDF has conducted a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Course in Malawi with participants from several partner nations across the continent.   And, just last month, the MDF became “Full Training Capable” for training UN peacekeeping forces!  This rare accomplishment certifies the MDF as one of the first militaries in Africa able to train soldiers for peacekeeping operations without the need for foreign assistance.  General Phiri – This is a tremendous accomplishment.  Woyee!

In fact, the MDF recently completed training of its 9th consecutive peacekeeping battalion.  More than 850 soldiers of the Malawi Battalion will soon arrive in the DRC with top-notch training received in partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom, and most importantly, from experienced MDF trainers.  At last month’s graduation ceremony I witnessed firsthand the tactical and technical proficiency of Malawi’s soldiers, as well as their professionalism while handling both wounded and captured enemy combatants.  In recent years the MDF has carried out UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan, Kosovo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and the DRC – and the MDF’s brave soldiers have done so with the utmost professionalism and distinction without any incidents of malfeasance – an accomplishment of which the MDF deserves to be rightly proud.

I know that the U.S.-Malawi partnership is replicated in numerous other countries across Africa.  As we work together to address traditional and non-traditional security threats, these partnerships, including support for capacity building, will help ensure that we adopt the right responses and have the necessary resources to carry out our security missions.  These partnerships have been a hallmark of the United States’ engagement in Africa for decades and will remain so into the future.

As U.S. President Donald Trump said recently during his first State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress, “American foreign policy calls for a direct, robust, and meaningful engagement with the world.  It is American leadership based on vital security interests that we share with our allies across the globe.  America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align. We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict.  We want peace, wherever peace can be found.”

That guidance reinforces our long-standing commitment to our African friends and partners, with whom we will continue to collaborate to assure peace and security in Africa and across the globe.

Let me again offer my deepest gratitude to everyone who worked so hard to make the 2017 African Land Forces Summit such a great success.  To you, Africa’s security leaders, I want you to know that as Africa stands against terror and conflict, and for Peace, Prosperity, and Security the United States stands with you.  Through continued partnership we will make Africa – and the world – more peaceful, prosperous, and secure.