Obangame Express : Closing Remarks – March 29, 2018

Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Randall Merideth

Admiral James Foggo

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.

Mr. Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense, representing His Excellency the Minister of Presidential Affairs and National Defense,

Excellency the Ambassador of the Gabonese Republic to the United States

Mr. Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy near the Gabonese Republic,

Rear Admiral, Deputy Chief of Staff, in charge of Operations, representing CEMGFA Gabonaise, prevented

Dear Brothers in Arms, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished guests,

GOOD MORNING! What a beautiful day for a closing ceremony!

First of all, I would like to express my thanks to the Gabonese Republic for having accepted to host this major event. I also thank His Excellency the Minister of Presidential Affairs and National Defense, as well as all the military departments for which he is responsible, for all the efforts and support for the success of this exercise.

This exercise would not have been so successful without the help of all the other key players and other resources that have contributed to the success of this event. I would particularly like to express my gratitude to Amiral Amerein for his involvement in the preparation of the planning conferences, the exercise, and the senior officials seminar. Thank you to all the distinguished guests of the different partner countries for taking your precious time to come to Libreville, to exchange and better understand the common perspectives for the stability of the Gulf of Guinea’s maritime area.

From the beginning of the Obangame and Saharan series of 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.  Why 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 Adm. and then later as 6th Fleet Commander.  So 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 here in Gabon as well as 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!  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 observations:  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 in 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.

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 OPAREAs (operational areas) within five zones and covered 2,350,000 km2 or 910,000 square miles 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, we should not pack up and go about our business.  Immediately after the exercise and throughout the year, we must work together to capture the After Action Reports, Best Practices and Lessons Learned from OE ‘18.  We have and must continue to apply the successes of Obangame in the form of Operation Junction Rain (OJR) or what many of us remember as African Partnership Station (APS). As we operate day-in-day-out in unity 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.

OJR’s real-world operations continue to fostering 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 (VEO).

Therefore, as we move forward towards OE-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.

Lastly, 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 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, 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 across 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 brethren-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 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 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 in the Gulf of Guinea.

Thank you again for allowing me to address this closing ceremony.



Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Randall Merideth

Excellence Monsieur le Ministre des Affaires Présidentielles et de la Défense Nationale,

Commandant des Forces Navales pour l’Afrique,

Monsieur le Secrétaire Général du Ministère de la Défense,

Monsieur le Chef d’Etat-major Général des Forces Armées,

Mesdames /Messieurs,

Distingués invités

t is an honor for me to address you today at the closing ceremony for OBANGAME EXPRESS 2018 in such a fitting environment, with so many international partners present.

I would first like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Republic of Gabon for all of the effort and hard work done to ensure that this maritime security exercise was a success.  To each of the participating nations and organizations, thank you for all of your hard work and coordination, which has been critical to executing such an enormous exercise, safely.

OBANGAME EXPRESS has once again served as a springboard to increase the capability of all of our forces to interdict illicit maritime activity. U.S. Africa Command’s goal is to work by, with, and through our African partners to improve conditions necessary for a secure, stable, and prosperous continent.  The contributions of our other international partners in this exercise further demonstrate the importance of the Gulf of Guinea to the greater international community—a community which is increasingly interdependent.

A point I would like to emphasize is this:  we must work together in order to build a more secure environment that increases prosperity for all nations. Interagency coordination within our own governments is difficult enough. When we add multi-national coordination to this challenge, these difficulties multiply. After having spoken with many of you these past two weeks, I am confident that we have all improved our processes and procedures and our abilities to coordinate effectively.

Although OBANGAME EXPRESS 2018 has come to a conclusion, the commitment of the United States to our African partners in the Gulf of Guinea will continue.  This exercise represents just one example of many where we have worked together to address the challenges that come with establishing safe seas.  A secure Gulf of Guinea ensures African, American and other partners’ interests are achieved.  As the global economy brings us closer together, all of our citizens benefit from a secure Gulf of Guinea.

In closing, I would like to again thank the Gabonese for exemplifying what it means to host an exercise. To all participating nations and organizations, thank you for contributing your time, your people, and your assets to another successful iteration of OBANGAME EXPRESS.  Admiral Foggo, thank you for bringing the USS Mount Whitney and its crew to Libreville.  Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank Captain Aguilar and the crew of the USS Mount Whitney for providing this great ambiance for the closing ceremony.

Thank you!