The Africa Center is the pre-eminent Department of Defense institution for strategic security studies, research, and outreach in Africa. The Africa Center engages African partner states and institutions through rigorous academic and outreach programs that build strategic capacity and foster long-term, collaborative relationships.
The Africa Center’s academic programs aim to generate strategic insights and analyses that can inform practitioners and policymakers on Africa’s security challenges. Participants include military, civilian, and civil society security sector professionals from Africa and their international counterparts. Drawing on practical experiences and lessons learned, the Center’s academic programs provide seminar-style venues for candid exchanges on priorities and best practices.
Their Mission: To advance African security by expanding understanding, providing a trusted platform for dialogue, building enduring partnerships, and catalyzing strategic solutions.
Their Vision: Security for all Africans championed by effective institutions accountable to their citizens.
The idea of an “Africa Center for Strategic Studies” first emerged from bipartisan consultations in the U.S. House of Representatives’ National Security Committee in the mid-1990s. In June 1995, the Committee requested that the Department of Defense develop a plan for the creation of such a center that would “encourage a broader understanding on the African continent of military matters compatible with democratic principles and civilian control.”
In March 1998, during a major trip to sub-Saharan Africa, President Bill Clinton promoted a U.S.-Africa partnership for the 21st century based on mutual respect and mutual interest. On April 1, 1998, the White House announced the establishment of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
In March 1999, the Africa Center was formally established.
The Center’s first event was a Senior Leaders Seminar, held in Dakar, Senegal, in May 1999. The program brought together 115 senior-level civilian government officials, flag-level military officers, and representatives of civil society from Africa, Europe, and the United States for two weeks of intense academic work. Fifty African nations were represented.
In subsequent years, other programs were added to the Africa Center’s curricula on topics such as regional security cooperation, conflict management, health and security, energy and security, and counterterrorism. These programs adopted an interactive, seminar-style educational model where participants were recognized for their rich practical experience, which was infused with empirical analysis and framing by Africa Center experts based on security trends on the continent.
Africa Center academic programs have typically been transcontinental or regional in scope, at times hosted in collaboration with one of Africa’s regional economic communities. In the interest of facilitating cross-regional exchanges and relationship-building, the Africa Center has from the beginning hosted multilingual academic events with simultaneous translations in English, French, and Portuguese, and occasionally Arabic.
Recognizing that Africa’s security challenges are often societally based involving non-state actors, the Africa Center adopted an approach that engages a wide range of security sector actors—military, police, and gendarmerie, as well as civilian, legislative, and civil society security sector actors. This has facilitated a cross-sectoral dialogue over the respective roles of each set of contributors in African security contexts.
In 2004, the Africa Center moved to its current location at the National Defense University, situated at historic Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, DC.
In 2005, the Africa Center introduced its Next Generation of African Military Leaders Course, a program focused on enhancing professionalism, ethics, and leadership among mid-level African military officers. The aim of this program was to enhance these officers’ professional education by helping them transition from tactical level to strategic level planning. The program has gone on to become one of the Africa Center’s most popular seminars and has been conducted annually ever since.
Over the years a range of topics have been added to the Center’s program offerings, reflecting interests of African partners and the changing nature of Africa’s security challenges. These have included issues such as managing security resources, maritime safety and security, small arms and light weapons, democratic civil military relations, combating narcotics and illicit trafficking, gender mainstreaming, the role of legislatures in the security sector, security sector reform, environment and security, preventing youth radicalization, enhancing peacekeeping operations, and defense institution-strengthening.
In total, the Africa Center has held more than 150 multilateral programs since its inception—half of them in Africa—involving some 15,000 participants, including representatives from every country on the continent.
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