KIGALI, Rwanda (AFNS) --
The 11th annual African Air Chiefs Symposium was held Jan. 24-28 in Kigali and provided a platform where senior airpower leaders across Africa established and strengthened partner relationships while collaborating and leveraging the unique contributions from each country. There were 32 African air chiefs and senior officials in attendance, three of which were virtual.
AACS was co-hosted by U.S. Air Forces Africa and the Rwanda Defence Force, with U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, and Rwandan Air Force Lt. Gen. Jean Jacques Mupenzi, Rwandan Air Force chief of staff in attendance. AACS is hosted annually by a different member of the Association of African Air Forces.
“Since its inception in 2011 when the first African Air Chiefs Symposium took place in Ethiopia, this conference has provided a unique opportunity for strategic dialogue, to foster coordination and for us to discuss common interests,” Harrigian said. “It also affords the opportunity to advance airpower development while focusing on specific topics that allow senior leaders to address common challenges.”
The participating countries included Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Dem. Republic of Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau (virtual), Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar (virtual), Malawi, Mauritania (virtual), Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rep. of Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo and Tunisia, Zambia.
During the symposium, key challenges confronting the air chiefs were identified, partner networks were strengthened, and discussions involving strategic airlift and shared best practices for enhancing partner capability were addressed.
The Republic of Rwanda President, His Excellency Paul Kagame; U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Rwanda Peter H. Vrooman; Rwanda Defence Force Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jean Bosco Kazura; and Rwandan Minister of Defense Maj. Gen. Albert Murasira, attended and highlighted the importance of partnerships and the impact AACS and AAAF has on the safety and security of Africa.
“I wish to commend the United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces in Africa, for the continued support to African air forces,” Kagame said. “Strategic airlift is a critical component for the maintenance of peace and security on the continent, particularly for peacekeeping operations. Nevertheless, our airlift capabilities are limited, and this affects the ability of African air forces to respond rapidly to security threats.”
Kagame continued, “We must therefore prioritize partnerships. The benefits of working together are clear.”
Working by, with, and through African partners, the AAAF provides a critical tool to engage multilaterally and facilitate partner ownership of security challenges in Africa.
AACS provided an opportunity to expand membership of the AAAF, and the nations Burundi and Gabon signed the AAAF Charter to become members. The AAAF is now composed of 28 member-nations.
COVID-19 has stopped the AACS from happening in-person the past two years, but strict protocols were put into place to mitigate the potential spread.
“The last in-person AACS was in 2019 and was hosted by Kenya,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Steven Lizzol, U.S. Air Forces Africa chief of international affairs. “A virtual AACS was held in 2021 co-chaired by Tunisia.”
AACS 22 focused on strategic airlift, an idea that takes planning, multinational coordination and efficient use of available resources to ensure strategic airlift is executed successfully on the continent. It’s a critical concept to discuss amongst air power professionals and leaders when considering Africa’s natural geography and developing environments, Lizzol said.
“World maps often do Africa an injustice when considering the continent’s actual size,” Lizzol said. “Africa spans over 30 million square kilometers and covers nearly one-fifth of the globe’s total land surface.”
AACS brought many nations together to collaborate and build strong partnerships. Significant security challenges are rarely solved by one nation alone. It typically takes contributions from multiple countries with each offering their unique capacities and capabilities to ensure mission success, Lizzol said.
The nation of Senegal revealed during the closing ceremony that they will co-host the next African Air Chiefs Symposium in 2023.
“The African Air Chiefs Symposium is not the only way we are working towards enhancing capabilities and partnerships,” Harrigian said. “Premier events like this further leverage our ability to share ideas and learn from one another. We need to continue engaging with each other on this level to maintain momentum and continually fuel our discussion wherever we go.”