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Bom dia, good morning, bonjour, marhaban, and buenos dias!
It is an honor to be here today with you in Cabo Verde on my first trip to Africa as the United States’ Secretary of the Navy. In fact, this is my very first time in an African nation—so I am long overdue in visiting this amazing continent.
But I must say, there is something very familiar and even nostalgic to me about this unique archipelago—Cabo Verde has much in common, historically and culturally, with Caribbean islands such as my place of birth, Cuba.
And in fact, my ancestry can be traced back from Cuba to Toro, Spain, as you might guess from my name, with stops in the Canary Islands and Cadiz.
You might say that I am beginning to experience a bit of “saudade” myself.
It is a joy to discover the sights, sounds, cuisine, and music of Cabo Verde, and I only wish I had more time to explore these beautiful islands, and to learn more about the people of Cabo Verde.
First and foremost, I would like to thank Prime Minister de Pina Correia e Silva for co-hosting this historic summit with the United States.
Our two nations have enjoyed a strong relationship for decades; and as an island nation, you understand and experience many of the issues we will discuss during our time together.
The African Maritime Forces Summit is the first event of its kind, involving the senior-most maritime leadership not only from across the African continent but also from North America, South America, and Europe.
Seeing how many countries are represented at this summit is a testament to each of these countries’ willingness to work together towards common goals.
We are all stronger together, and this gathering is a positive step towards enhanced cooperation.
Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff of the Nigerian Navy, speaking at the closing ceremony of Obangame Express 2023 in Lagos last month, put it beautifully: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
We have come together here for the first time, marking a new beginning. And the United States Navy and Marine Corps are here to stay with you, and to work with you.
As President Biden said during the African Leaders Symposium in Washington, DC, this past December, the United States is all-in on Africa and all-in with Africa.
That is why the United States presence at this summit includes senior leaders not only from the Department of the Navy and Coast Guard, but also from the Department of State and USAID.
It takes all of us working together to tackle the types of challenges we are here to discuss.
And as the Kenyan proverb goes, “having a good discussion is like having riches.”
Together, in this type of atmosphere, we build an environment anchored in trust and mutual respect.
And respect on a country-to-country level begins with the concept of national sovereignty.
As Vice President Harris has made clear, America stands for “respect for sovereignty and international integrity, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and freedom of navigation.”
In order to defend freedom of the sea, we work to ensure our Sailors and Marines have the capability and forward presence to stand by our allies and our partners.
That is a reason why I am here today, speaking to you, our allies and partners, to confirm that the United States is committed to a rules-based international order, especially in the maritime domain.
We respect your sovereignty, we respect your borders, we respect your exclusive economic zones, we respect your people, and we invite every nation around the world to do the same.
Even more important than speaking to you, however, is listening to you. I am here to meet you, to talk to you, and to listen to you. I want to learn what the world looks like through your eyes.
And I want to know what we can do to strengthen our bonds with you.
International partnerships are indeed at the very top of my list of priorities as the Secretary of the Navy—because the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps depend on allies and partners around the world to maintain free and open sea lanes, where trade and commerce can flourish, which is to all nations’ advantage.
Our partnerships in Africa are of mutual benefit and we seek every opportunity to strengthen them, whether at-sea or ashore. When like-minded partners come together to develop African-led solutions to our common challenges, the result will inevitably be increased economic prosperity and greater global security.
As I said, this is my first visit to Africa, but fortunately I have had the pleasure of meeting with some of you already.
I had the opportunity to engage with Equatorial Guinea’s Head of Navy, Colonel Esono Nchama, and Rear Admiral Adel Jehane, Head of the Tunisian Navy, during the 2021 International Seapower Symposium, where naval leaders from around the globe come together to discuss common maritime challenges as well as opportunities to enhance security cooperation.
And last September, I met Rear Admiral Mendoua, Head of the Navy of Cameroon, during the UNITAS 63 Exercise in Brazil, which was the first such exercise to include maritime forces from African nations.
Sailors from both Cameroon and Namibia crossed the Atlantic Ocean to join eighteen other nations in the two-week long exercise—I want to once again express my congratulations to these two nations for this historic first.
I plan to meet many more of you, my counterparts, in the next day or two, and I look forward to sharing a meal or even a sip of Grogue together.
During this summit, and as long as I am Secretary of the Navy, I intend to strengthen our relationships with like-minded maritime nations, and to deepen interoperability with them in order to enable mutual action to address shared challenges, including:
The United States is committed to transparency and inclusion when working with our partners to achieve our collective and common goals of security and stability across the continent.
We are grateful to our indispensable African partners present here, as well as to Brazil, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the United Kingdom, for their continued commitment to addressing regional security challenges, and we welcome all nations’ contributions to the global issues we all face.
I am especially thankful to Nigeria for hosting this year’s Exercise Obangame Express 2023.
Obangame Express started 12 years ago as a communications exercise with a small number of at-sea training opportunities.
Today, it has grown into the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western and Central Africa…
And, this year, 29 nations participated, 21 of which are present at this summit.
I’m very proud of the hard work of our American Sailors and Marines, and I’m also tremendously impressed by all that you, our partners, have accomplished, to include exchanging ship-boarding techniques, demonstrating proper collection and reporting of evidence, and much more.
On the other side of the continent, in the Indian Ocean, Exercise Cutlass Express 2023 just concluded earlier this month, with 15 nations participating, including Comoros, Djibouti, France, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania, and the United Kingdom.
This regional exercise offered collaborative opportunities for participating nations to address shared transnational maritime concerns through increased maritime awareness, response capabilities, and infrastructure.
And in the next few months, Exercise Phoenix Express 2023 will commence in the Mediterranean, with several of our North African partner nations here present.
Last year’s Phoenix Express, the 17th such exercise, was hosted at the La Goulette Naval Base in Tunis, and included a preparatory in-port phase as well as five days of maritime security training in the Mediterranean Sea.
The at-sea portion of the exercise helped improve the participating nations’ abilities to respond to irregular migration and to combat illicit trafficking and the movement of illegal goods and materials.
These three annual maritime exercises are extremely important to our Navy and Marine Corps team, and they are extremely important to me.
It is through these types of activities that we share best practices, learn about each other, and hone our skills.
And perhaps most importantly, the conduct of these exercises serves as a highly visible deterrent to those who seek to violate your exclusive economic zones and undermine our rules-based world order.
As I said earlier, all nations benefit from free and open access to the maritime domain. The waters around the African continent are home to many critical global shipping lanes, and the coastal waters of Africa contain some of the world’s richest fishing grounds.
Maintaining security and freedom of movement within your exclusive economic zones and territorial waters is indeed a global best interest—and one of the roles of the U.S. sea services is to assist our partners in fostering a united, global effort to safeguard this access.
Together, we can prevent intrusions of criminal elements—who take away your “blue” economic resources and thrive at your expense—and avert commercial shipping disruptions.
When African maritime economies thrive, when exclusive economic zones are respected and freedom of the sea is secured, the global economy also thrives.
I will not pretend that securing the maritime domain is an easy task, but by working together we can accomplish much more than each of us could on our own.
The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
We all share common challenges—and once we think we have resolved one challenge, a new one can pop up.
Some of these challenges can be resolved by sharing maritime information. For example, the “SeaVision” tool, which enables users to view and share maritime information, can go a long way in improving operational efficiency and interoperability among us.
Some of you recently used SeaVision during Exercise Cutlass Express—and I hope to hear feedback on your experiences with it.
Interoperability enables us to share responsibility and to collectively respond to security challenges and threats by speaking the same operational language.
We can also build interoperability with each other through military personnel exchanges, which I strongly support.
In fact, I can tell you first-hand how valuable personnel exchanges can be.
About 40 years ago, when I was a young midshipman, I was lucky enough to participate in an exchange with the Spanish Royal Navy, during which we sailed to the Canary Islands.
It was a formative experience for me, one that I will never forget…
And speaking of experiences, seeing USS Bulkeley here in the Sal port has certainly brought back many memories for me…
You see, I had the honor of being the first commanding officer of USS Bulkeley, over 20 years ago.
I remember sailing out of New York harbor shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001… A time when so many nations around the world expressed their solidarity with the people of the United States.
We have not forgotten your friendship.
I would love to hear about your experiences, leading your sailors, or being sailors yourselves—and I know we have much to share, because we have much in common.
As security partners, we share a vision of a more peaceful and prosperous world, a world in which all our children have a chance to live free and to pursue their dreams.
As leaders, we share many of the duties that come with our roles in our respective nations, and we share the weight of responsibility of taking care of the men and women under our charge.
And as sailors, we share a love of the sea.
There is no one who has captured both the allure of the sea and the loneliness of being away from your home more perfectly than the inimitable Cesária Évora:
Years pass by, and time flies
The sun comes up and the moon leaves the sky
And I’m still away from my land
I want to once more thank you all for being here this week.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak to you, and to be here with you in Cabo Verde.
I look forward to meeting with many of you and having honest discussions on the challenges you face in combating maritime security threats in the waters surrounding Africa.
And I want to know how we can best support you.
Carlos Del Toro
20 March 2023
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