More than 150 geopolitical researchers and analysts from nearly all points of the globe gathered at Maxwell on Feb. 13 to study Africa in the first symposium planned and conducted by Air University's Air Force Research Institute, which "stood up" in May, 2008, under the direction of Gen. (ret.) John A. Shaud.
According to Col. Don Tharp, operations director of AFRI, the one-day symposium was designed to "bring in academics from near and far" to discuss the security challenges and strategic perspectives of Africa. He added the symposium was also co-presented by the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa or ASMEA.
ASMEA is also another new organization, based in Washington, D.C., and first organized in October of 2007, according to its director, David Silverstein.
"ASMEA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that promotes the highest standards of academic research and teaching in the fields of Middle Eastern and African studies and related disciplines through programs, publications, and services that support its members and the international community of scholars and interested members of the public," he said.
Colonel Tharp explained the symposium was designed to stimulate interest and discussion among the attending academics by bringing in four featured presenters, all renown in their respective fields.
"We hope our guests will get to know each other, share ideas, and possibly use information gained from this symposium in their continued research," Colonel Tharp said.
The first presenter was Dr. Gerard Prunier of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris and author of several books on the Congo and Rwanda. A Frenchman, Dr. Prunier first gave an examination of the instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region and how the DRC is the "lynchpin" for ending the ongoing small wars in central Africa.
Dr. Prunier's second presentation concerned Sudan and the potential for internal conflicts there to "stir up" similar violence in nearby Eritrea, Chad, and the Central African Republic between 2009 and 2011 when elections are scheduled.
From the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Dr. Walid Phares spoke on "Africa and the Middle East: Shared Dangers and Destinies." Born in Lebanon, Dr. Phares' presentation examined the spread of militant Islam throughout the continent and its roots in the Middle East. Dr. Phares is also currently a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a Visiting Scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy.
"Domestic Instability and Foreign Encroachment in East Africa" was presented by Mauro De Lorenzo of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D. C. His talk examined the "persistent instability in East Africa with special reference to Rwanda and Uganda and the impact of Chinese and other foreign investment in the region."
As a resident follow at AEI, Mr. De Lorenzo studies private sector-based approaches to development in post-conflict and post-socialist countries, focusing on reforms that have made some developing countries attractive to foreign and domestic investment.
The symposium's final presenter was Dr. Robert Lloyd from Pepperdine University, Calif. His topic was "Southern Africa: Security Amidst Uncertainty" which examined security concerns in southern Africa; the role of South Africa as a regional power; and the likelihood that endemic poverty, corruption, and violence will lead to a worsening situation in the region.
Dr. Lloyd is an associate professor of International Relations at Pepperdine and also directs its International Studies program. Prior to Pepperdine, he has extensive experience in Africa working in several leadership positions for an international development nongovernmental organization.
By all accounts, the symposium was a success, Colonel Tharp said. He said work has already begun on AFRI's next project when it travels to London in May. AFRI has partnered with the Royal United Services Institute and Kings College in London to invite key speakers and researchers from both the U.S. and its allies for a "strategic deterrence" symposium.
In July, AFRI will be conducting a symposium at Maxwell to examine what an operator is in the Air Force.
Colonel Tharp said Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz, commander of Air Education and Training Command, had requested the topic that will examine the requirements for the modern day operator in the Air Force.
"In light of pilot and critical career field shortages, he is asking what now determines an operator," Colonel Tharp said.
He said for this conference he expects representatives from AETC, Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Space Command and Air Force Special Operations Command.
Even though the Africa symposium was the first planned event for AFRI, Colonel Tharp said AFRI had previously conducted a short-notice symposium on diversity at the request of the AU commander.