Accra, Ghana – Obangame Express (OE21), the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western Africa, kicked off its tenth year with 32 participating nations at an opening ceremony in Accra, Ghana, March 19, 2021.
Sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), OE21 is designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of participating nations to counter sea-based illicit activity.
“Obangame Express allows us to develop skills, with our regional partners, that will have a lasting impact on regional security in the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean,” said Rear Adm. Michael Baze, Director of Maritime Headquarters, U.S. Naval Forces Africa. “Our past exercises led to tangible, real-world success stories, and OE21 is a chance for us to build upon those successes.”
AFRICOM assists African partner nations’ efforts to protect the maritime economy in order to ensure continued, sustainable use of maritime resources and enable maritime trade.
“The Ghana Navy is once again honoured to host Obangame Express, the multinational exercise that seeks to build the capacity of the Navies in the Gulf of Guinea Region,” said Ghana’s Chief of the Naval Staff, Rear Adm. Issah Yakubu. “Our focus will therefore be to ensure the enhancement of interoperability, information sharing, and implementation of laid down inter-agency procedures towards ensuring maritime security by all stakeholders.”
OE21, one of three U.S. Naval Forces Africa-facilitated regional exercises, is part of a comprehensive strategy by NAVAF-SIXTHFLT and AFRICOM to provide collaborative opportunities for African forces and international partners to address maritime security concerns.
“The exercise will be conducted in multiple areas at sea and ashore,” said Yakubu. “At-sea operations will be conducted throughout the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. This year marks the second time the exercise will be hosted by Ghana, in its capital city of Accra.”
Numerous Maritime Operations Centers will participate ashore from across the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa, along with several international organizations. Training opportunities during OE21 include boarding techniques, search and rescue operations, medical casualty response, radio communication, and information management techniques.
“Our maritime security partnerships prepare African nations to prevent piracy and other illicit maritime activities that threaten development efforts, citizen security, and deprive states of resources required for fostering greater economic growth,” said U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, Stephanie S. Sullivan. “Exercises like Obangame Express create a cohesive community that is in a stronger position to confront these challenges.”
The 32 nations scheduled to participate in OE21 include Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, São Tomé & Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo, and the United States. Also participating will be the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan’s As Prepared Remarks
at Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS 21 Opening Ceremony
Ghana Armed Forces Burma Hall
19 March 2021; 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Minister of Defense of the Republic of Ghana, the Honorable Dominic Nitiwul;
Chief of Defense Staff of the Ghana Armed Forces, Vice Admiral Seth Amoama;
Chief of Naval Staff of the Ghana Armed Forces, Rear Admiral Issah Yakubu;
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, Admiral Robert Burke;
Representatives of participating partner nations,
All protocols observed.
Akwaaba! Bienvenues! Ahlan-wa-sahlan! Bienvenidos! Boas vindos! Mbote! Welcome!
I’m really happy to be with you today at the official opening ceremony for Exercise Obangame Express 2021. After hearing about if from afar for several years, and even learning to pronounce it, this is my first time being able to play a direct role!
The United States is truly delighted to partner with Ghana and the other nations gathered here to promote maritime security, and to enhance our interoperability among African, European, Atlantic, and U.S. militaries and agencies.
Exercise Obangame Express is the largest maritime exercise in Africa, spanning from Morocco to Angola. The purpose of the exercise is to improve regional cooperation and information sharing among participating nations to counter sea-based illicit maritime activity and to strengthen safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea.
The region’s ability to provide maritime security is more important than ever, as illegal activity is on the rise. With an increase in piracy, robbery, and other illicit activities such as illegal fuel bunkering, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, all stakeholders interested in contributing to Africa’s security must take a coordinated approach to counter these activities. A safe, stable, and secure Africa is very much in the interest of the global community.
Piracy and other illicit maritime activities threaten development efforts, weaken state security, and rob states of precious resources needed for greater economic growth and effective governance.
At its worst, such illicit activities can destabilize regions and create pockets for terrorism to thrive. Our shared goals of a secure, stable, and prosperous Africa benefit not only our African partners and the United States but also the entire international community. And collaboration with our African, European, North and South American partners plays a key role in maintaining that security.
Exercise Obangame Express will reinforce these relationships and capabilities even further. Exercises such as this are also excellent opportunities for making personal connections and sharing lessons learned. These lessons can flow from “best practices” and also from “worst practices.” We can learn from each others’ successes and missteps as well. The coordination must continue well past the closing of this exercise at all levels of your commands to solidify the gains made during this coming week.
No remarks are complete without mention of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and its effects – from which Exercise Obangame Express is not exempt. The pandemic has presented many challenges for each of us. With challenges come innovative solutions, such as the use of video teleconferencing and collaborative online fora to conduct a number of exercises. Additionally, the Senior Leadership Symposium will be conducted virtually as a COVID mitigation measure. Exercise planners have taken, and continue to take, every precaution to ensure the health and safety of our sailors, partners, and allies. Social distancing, the proper use of facemasks, and quarantine periods prior to exercise execution have been required to ensure the health and safety of all participants during in-person training activities.
To conclude, I’d like to thank U.S. Naval Forces Africa for organizing this event, as well as the Government of Ghana and the Ghana Armed Forces for providing a world-class venue to host this and other regional security partnership programs.
I wish you all a successful exercise. Medaase! Merci! Shukran! Gracias!
Obligada! Natondi! Thank you!