Two high-profile security conferences in Ethiopia have underlined the siginficance Western policymakers attach to enlisting African support when shoring up global security and meeting the growing terrorist threat.
Ethiopia was a good choice of venue. Two international forums devoted to peace and security were running almost concurrently in the nation on the Horn of Africa. The Munich Security Conference, which stages a key meeting in the southern German metropolis every year in February, mounted a Core Group Meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Thursday and Friday. Core Group Meetings are gatherings of no more than 60 people in which pressing international security issues can be discussed in an informal, relaxed atmosphere.
Subsequently, the 5th Tana Forum - a pan-African conference on peace and security on the continent - met in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia's third largest city. This gave policymakers from Europe, the United States and the Middle East two locations within the same country at which they could discuss the challenges of global and regional security with their African counterparts.
"The opportunities, but also the risks and dangers, emanating from Africa are considerable," Wolfgang Ischinger, chair of the Munich Security Conference, told DW before the start of the Core Group Meeting in Addis Ababa. Instability, terrorism and the export of terrorism are a direct threat to Europe. "That's why it's important that African security is placed at the top of our agenda," the German diplomat said.
Regional conflicts in East Africa and the Horn of Africa were discussed at the Core Group Meeting, as well as the fight against Boko Haram in West Africa. There was also a closed-door meeting about the lessons to be learned from the Ebola epidemic.
After the Core Group Meeting in Addis Ababa, many delegates then travelled to Bahir Dar for the Tana Forum.
The meeting was hosted by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. "Every time the continent faces grave threats to peace and security, we are forced to realize that we cannot fend them off on our own," he said.
The Ethiopian leader also said that Africa needed the international community, but the international community also needed Africa as well. "The Tana Forum wants to develop strategies which will strengthen Africa's role in the global security agenda," Hailemariam added. Ethiopian troops are fighting Islamist militants in neighboring Somalia and are also contributing soldiers to UN blue helmet missions.
Germany has been helping Africa to improve its security architecture for a number of years. Berlin contributes to the funding of the African Union's Peace and Security Council and also assisted in the creation of Tana Forum. This financial backing continues to this day. It is, however, not entirely motivated by altruism.
Joachim Schmidt, the German ambassador to Ethiopia told DW that Africa, which is so important for Europe's security, is climbing up the global agenda. Germany's main concern is the efficient coordination of resources, both by the Africans and by international security partners. "Good will and individual endeavors alone won't help as long as we lack the appropriate structures to coordinate our efforts," Schmidt said.
Progress towards setting up an African rapid reaction force has been painfully slow as the project has been under discussion for more than ten years. But European security officials are reluctant to openly criticize their African counterparts for such indecision. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria and chair of this year's Tana Forum, was not troubled by such inhibitions.
"Africa can always only be as good as its political leaders and its people. And if Africa fails to achieve something then that is because its leaders and its people have not let such achievements happen," he said.
Obasanjo also voiced criticism of the drive towards regional integration in Africa. "I don't think I will live to see a pan-African unity government," Obasanjo said. "But I do hope that I will be able to travel through Africa without needing 54 visas one day."
That raised a brief laugh. Then Obasanjo turned serious once more. "Let us not deceive ourselves. No partner will take us seriously if we expect others to foot the bill for our budgets," he said. That applies to security in particular.
Getachew Tedla Hailegiorgis in Addis Ababa and Yohannes Gebreegziabher in Bahir Dar contributed to this report.