I am honored to be here today in Libreville. First, I would like to begin by expressing my sincere appreciation to our gracious hosts here in Gabon.
Monsieur le Ministre de la Défense, Monsieur le Chargé d'Affaires de l'Ambassade des Etats-Unis, Monsieur le Secrétaire Général du Ministère de la Défense, Monsieur le Chef d'Etat-major Général des Forces Armées, Chers frères d'Armes, Mesdames /Messieurs, Distingués invités,
BONJOUR ! Quelle belle journée pour une cérémonie de clôture ..... Je voudrais tout d'abord remercier la République Gabonaise pour avoir accepté d'abriter cet importante événement . Je remercie également Monsieur le Ministre de la défense et tous les départements militaires dont il a la charge, pour tous les efforts et le soutien déployés pour la réussite de cet exercice. Votre présence à bord de ce bateau nous honore.
Cet exercice n'aurait pas eu autant de succès, sans le concours de tous les autres acteurs clés, et autres ressources ayant travaillé à la réussite de cet évènement. Merci en particulier à l'Amiral Amerein pour votre soutien à la préparation de l'organisation des conférences de planification, de l'exercice, et du séminaire des hauts responsables. Merci à tous les distingués invités des différents pays partenaires pour prendre votre précieux temps pour venir à Libreville, afin d'échanger et d'avoir une compréhension des perspectives communes pour la stabilité du domaine maritime du Golfe de Guinée.
From the beginning of the Obangame and Saharan exercises in 2011, Gabon has been a steadfast member of the Gulf of Guinea family of nations. Once again, Gabon has gone above and beyond to ensure the senior leadership seminar and closing events are etched in our minds as a resounding success.
Based on what I have observed over the past several days meeting with key leaders throughout this region, I can proclaim, without hesitation, that Obangame Express 2018 was a success. Now, why am I so confident? I sincerely believe that over the past few years and, especially within the last few weeks, we have once again displayed our unified commitment to the importance of maritime safety, security, stability, and economic prosperity throughout the Gulf of Guinea.
As some of you are aware, I’ve been intimately involved in Obangame for many years—first as a one-star admiral and then as a three-star fleet commander. And every time I think about Obangame Express, I always come back to the definition of the word 'Obangame'. It literally means 'to be together' in Fang, a language spoken in southern Cameroon and in several regions of Central Africa.
This strategically important exercise focuses on bringing “together” over 36 entities: these include 19 African nations and over 15 European, Atlantic and international organizations under the umbrella of maritime safety, security and cooperation in the Gulf of Guinea. This is a magnificent achievement that has taken place for almost a decade, with increasing complexity, and executed with pin-point accuracy every single year! I know because I have been here for most of that decade. In other words, Obangame encompasses OUR sustained commitment to the Gulf of Guinea.
To summarize what Obangame means to all of us, I offer you the following observation: Obangame not only highlights our common goal of improving maritime security, but this exercise incrementally supports and strengthens the vital institutions that support economic growth and opportunity for the Gulf of Guinea.
Year after year, Obangame re-evaluates and lends credence to our long-term vision to improve law enforcement capacity and capability in this vital region. We come together annually to reaffirm our commitment to the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, cementing the notion that we stand side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with our African and European partners who cherish and abide by the rule of law at sea.
This year is no different… we once again reunited with many of our interagency and international partners through an expansive network of Maritime Operations Centers that spanned five operational areas within five zones and covered 2.4 million square kilometers to show our resolve to the Gulf of Guinea.
The enormity of this geographical area once again reminds us of the importance of greater cooperation, integration and interoperability between our respective sensors and systems.
Every year, Obangame’s operational and tactical scenarios get more and more complicated, but we must also keep pace by rapidly improving our internal procedures by “operationalizing” what we’ve learned during Obangame Express. In other words, when the exercise is over today, we should not pack up and go about business as usual. Immediately after the exercise and throughout the year, we must work together to capture the after action reports, best practices and lessons learned from Obangame Express 2018. We have and must continue to apply the successes of Obangame in the form of Operation Junction Rain or what many of us remember as African Partnership Station. As we operate day-in-day-out throughout this vibrant region, we have basically transferred all the successful lessons of Obangame and “operationalized” our efforts with the overarching goal of creating long-term stability in the Gulf of Guinea.
Operation Junction Rain’s real-world operations continue to foster closer cooperation between our nations, and promote regional security initiatives. At-sea and on-the-ground coordination enhances our collective efforts at addressing transnational threats, as well as disrupting or neutralizing violent extremist organizations.
Therefore, as we move forward towards Obangame Express 19 and into the future, we must focus our energies on three main areas:
First, we need to continue to break down the barriers to relevant, timely information sharing--in accordance with the Yaoundé Code of Conduct.
Second, we must work to establish national maritime strategies that enable the political authorities and organizations to take effective action accompanied by the establishment of appropriate legal frameworks.
Finally, we need to continue our efforts through the various Gulf of Guinea navies to perform law enforcement activities which protect trade, and reduce the threat of transnational criminal and terrorist organizations.
The valuable lessons of Obangame Express 2018--as important as they are--will fade from memory if we do not follow-up with action. Throughout the remainder of 2018 and beyond, we must take steps towards coherent action, and be willing to commit the resources that will enable us to sustain these efforts and achieve our common goals.
I look forward to Obangame Express 2019 — and I will be here — which will once again highlight our progress towards developing and sustaining regional maritime security through increased training efforts. Throughout this year, however, I am committed to supporting every opportunity for joint patrols and coordinated responses throughout the economic exclusion zones -- which have a proven track record of success. Over the past few years, we’ve observed less piracy and illegal smuggling during maritime exercises, law enforcement operations, and joint patrols. This is a testament to our commitment and combined efforts to achieve results.
We can and must continue to build political will by “speaking out” about the importance of maritime security to the overall economic health and vibrancy of the Gulf of Guinea. As maritime and nautical brothers and sisters-in-arms, we must continue to speak out about the negative economic and environmental impacts of illegal fishing, illegal oil bunkering, and piracy; our political leaders and our legislators must hear from us on a routine basis—let them know you support and cherish for the Rule of Law… Your country is counting on you to be the voice for safety and security at sea.
I look forward to working with each and every one of you in our quest for a more prosperous maritime environment across the Gulf of Guinea. As evident from this year’s Obangame exercise, it comes down to regional actions, partnered with international support that ultimately leads us to security in the maritime domain—and long-term stability for the Gulf of Guinea.
Thank you again for allowing me to address this closing ceremony and for your indulgence today.