NDI's Fomunyoh Rates ACSS Initiative as Smashing Success
(He says creating atmosphere of open dialogue was key)

By Jim Fisher-Thompson Washington File Staff Correspondent Dakar, Senegal
12 November 1999

The National Democratic Institute's (NDI's) regional director for Central, Eastern and West Africa has described the first session of the U.S.-African Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) as "a very valuable and productive exercise in bridge-building between two groups in Africa that have traditionally been at odds -- the military and civilians."

Chris Fomunyoh, said, "I am rather optimistic that even the most skeptical individuals on both sides [military and civilian] now, coming out of this two-week senior leader seminar [October 30 to November 12], will recognize that they can work together" on the political and economic problems bedeviling the continent.

NDI is a Washington-based non-governmental organization (NGO) chartered by Congress to help promote democracy and open government worldwide.

In Africa, NDI operates numerous programs in areas such as civic education and election planning and monitoring.

Chris Fomunyoh,
Rtd. US Ambassador Lannon Walker,
Senegalese Interpreter Cheikh Mbacke Diop
and Kenyan General D.I. Opande
(Dakar Conference on Civil-military relations).

Almost a dozen representatives of civil society were invited to attend the seminar, which examined how militaries best fit into democracies. They joined 110 high-level military officers and civil servants who were invited to participate in the initiative, which President Bill Clinton promised he would establish during his 1998 visit to Africa.

Asked how the NGO representatives interacted during the seminar, Fomunyoh said, "My sense is that a lot of them came to the conference with bias and prejudices based in large part on their personal experiences -- some of them living in countries that have gone through a lot of military coups and counter-coups. "Coming with that bitter experience of the negative role of the military, you could feel the tension in the first few days of the seminar," he added. "But, increasingly, as we spent the two weeks together," Fomunyoh said, "individuals began to realize that they have more in common than separates them and that both sides -- the military and civilians -- could and should work together."

Former Defence Minister of Ireland
Patric Cooney, former NDI Senior Program
Officer Tim McCoy and Chris Fomunyoh
(Dakar conference on civil-military relation).
The NGO official said he believed the ACSS seminar, to which six European nations also sent representatives, was "a success on many fronts: one, the fact that it brought together Africans from 43 different countries -- for example, breaking the barriers between Lusophone, Anglophone, and Francophone Africa. That, by itself, was an achievement. "Second, breaking barriers between soldiers and civilians, who often don't have formal channels of communications inside their own countries, by bringing them into a forum for two weeks to discuss their various perspectives," he said, is "a remarkable contribution." And lastly, he said, "the fact that ACSS provided an environment where senior military officers could talk to their counterparts in neighboring countries with a degree of trust and confidence is quite an achievement.

" People who know Africa well, know that such communication cannot be taken for granted," and ACSS has gained in credibility by recognizing that discussion builds understanding, trust, and confidence -- the building blocks to good civil-military relations, Fomunyoh added. Commenting on his own experiences, Fomunyoh said, "It was heartening for me to learn more from the Africans in terms of what their expectations are on how NGOs like mine could help them." Asked his opinion of the seminar's teaching methodology, Fomunyoh said, "I think it was a good combination of both team-building discussions and exercises and lectures." He added, "My one hope is that this is the beginning of what should be a consistent effort to really strengthen healthy civil-military relations in Africa that in many ways could be the underpinning of sustainable democratic and economic development on this continent."

Speakers at the seminar included Ambassador Lannon Walker, who served as chief of mission in Senegal, Nigeria, and Cote d'Ivoire; Marybeth Peterson Ulrich, a professor at the U.S. Army War College and an expert on democratizing communist militaries; Lieutenant General Daniel Opande, Kenya's vice chief of staff and a former commandant of Kenya's National Defense College; and Connie Freeman, a resident ACSS faculty member who is a retired foreign service officer and a specialist on development economics.