How can the U.S. Military connect with Africans online?
OUR INTENTION IS TO PARTNER WITH NATIONS IN AFRICA, THE INTERAGENCY AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY, WITH THE GOAL OF REALIZING AN AFRICA THAT IS SECURE, STABLE AND DEVELOPED IN WAYS MEANINGFUL TO ITS PEOPLE AND OUR GLOBAL SOCIETY.
– GENERAL WILLIAM ‘KIP’ WARD, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND
With the formation of U.S. Africa Command, the U.S. military has had a more significant presence on the continent of Africa than ever before. As the Army component to AFRICOM, U.S. Army Africa was formally established in October 2009. Since then, members of the command, both soldiers and Department of the Army civilians, have traveled across much of the 12 million square miles and the 54 nations that make up Africa to establish relationships with their military counterparts.
U.S. Army Africa’s mission is to conduct sustained security engagement with African land forces to promote security, stability and peace. They are also responsible, if called on, to provide a contingency headquarters in support of crisis response/disaster relief.
The continent is new to many U.S. soldiers, but to a small group of medical professionals, Kenya has been home for 40 years. The U.S. Army Medical Research Unit – Kenya (USAMRU-K), a.k.a “The Walter Reed Project,” established in 1969, worked with the Government of Kenya to study sleeping sickness. Today their research out of Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisia, Komewa, and Kericho, is mainly concerned with Malaria and HIV/AIDS. This is a great story and one that many Africans, not just local Kenyans should know about.
But getting the word out about U.S. Army’s efforts is not easy when speaking to 1 billion Africans in more than 2,000 languages. It is even more difficult when you have several layers of approval before a story or interview can be authorized. Whether a story about handful of soldiers sharing logistical matters or a full-fledged exercise with multiple nations and thousands of soldiers, it is imperative to coordinate with the U.S. Embassy in that particular country and the host military. In most cases, the local knowledge from these organizations helps to connect with the populace. However, some countries do not share the same perspective on media access to military training.
U.S. Army Africa has a strong presence in the digital space with Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr, and their blog (although a regurgitation of news, not a genuine blog with a conversation, genuine voice).
And they have taken steps to try to connect with Africans by asking simple, straight-forward questions. But, this is not enough if Africans do not know where you are to begin with.
What are some ways to improve?
According to Alexa, the top news sites in Kenya are:
*If not already contacts through the embassy or the host military, request to open a dialogue with these outlets.
*Use Mashada, Afrigator, and Kenya Blogs Webring to identify the top blogs in Kenya, read them over a period of time and get a feel for what is discussed, the voice. If relevant, slowly join the conversation.
*Continue to use the Embassy and the host nation military for ideas and new contacts that can provide you with the latest means to connect with people.
U.S. Army Africa has a great story to tell, and getting it to those who need to hear it most is critically important.
The author was the public affairs officer for U.S. Army Africa from December 2008 until August 2009.