Patuxent Defense Forum, “Africa Rising,” Examines the Interests of the U.S., International Community and African States in African Development

The Center for the Study of Democracy invited students to attend the 2011 Patuxent Forum, “Africa Rising”, a two-day conference held Tuesday, April 19 and Wednesday ,April 20.

The goal of the conference was to examine the intersection of interests of the United States, the International Community, and African states in the development of Africa. Lectures were held in Cole Cinema from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The Patuxent Defense Forum is an annual event that brings together academics, government employees, military officials and officers, defense contractors, key policy-makers, and researchers in order to “expand the dialogue and ensure the representation of diverse perspectives in U.S. strategic decision-making,” according to the event’s website.

One St. Mary’s College student, senior Kaitlyn Grigsby served as a panelist on the second day of lectures and presented “Rise Up and Walk: How Official Aid to Africa Fosters Environmental Crises. ”

The conference also featured two St. Mary’s faculty speakers, professors of political science, Matt Fehrs (moderating Panel One) and Fevzi Bilgin (a featured speaker and moderator of Panel Three).

Bilgin began his lecture on the North African situation in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco.

“I gave them an update about challenges of the regime after the revolution and the constitutional process,” Bilgin said. “Egypt fast-forwarded the process; Tunisia is talking about a new constitution, and there is uncertainty in Libya. I talked about these things for the first half-hour.”

His first year as speaker, Bilgin also moderated a panel where a variety of things were discussed.

“This is something that I care about that the College does and it is very related to me,” Bilgin said. “Last year I had the opportunity to listen to two panels on the Afghanistan and security challenges, and it was interesting. You learn something new and you get different expertise. I very much enjoyed listening to the panelists and my job was just to introduce them. It is high-level, quality conversation and the faculty usually likes those things.

It’s a valuable experience for students in terms of them being exposed to more expertise in the areas that we don’t usually have expertise to in the College. I encourage students to go to any lecture that has intellectual quality. This is a high profile event it is sponsored by the Center and not any department. I totally support the initiative and think this is something we should continue having at the College.”

First-year Griffin Canfield attended Panel two of the lecture: If AFRICOM is the Answer, What Is the Question?

“The speakers talked about how the term Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMD, is being too easily used today,” Canfield said.  “It was also discussed how the people who work on WMD policy are finding it hard to be brought into the fold with the intelligence community. Its hard to imagine that we are able to have a successful Intel community with the all the in-fighting that goes on within the different agencies and departments, but that can be said for government as a whole.”

“Everyone is fighting over their piece of the budget,” Canfield added, “The speaker discussed how the FBI had a vast amount of weapons, pipe bombs, re-classified as WMDs so that it would fall under their jurisdiction. This allowed them to gain a bigger part of the Homeland Security budget.”

Canfield also mentioned that the three speakers felt that WMD are not seen as a threat among African nations. Leaders in Africa are more concerned with AIDS, cholera, etc.

When asked how he felt the lecture could be improved Canfield had this to say: “Even though the speakers came from different sectors, military, academia, and business, it did seem as though they were slanted to one side in their beliefs. It would be nice if the other side of the debate were represented next year. However, I think that can be said for anything political at St. Mary’s. Since I want to work in the intelligence community I found this lecture very interesting and worthwhile. I look forward to attending next year. Hopefully my classes don’t get in the way of the majority of the panels like they did this year.”

The conference provided a variety of perspectives, expertise, and viewpoints as scholars, government employees, and students alike came together to discuss issues in Africa and around the world.

The department was also informed that a few days following the lecture, one of the panelists, Henri Boshoff, died in car accident near his home in Pretoria.

“He was a speaker on my panel,” Bilgin said. “As a moderator of the panel it was very sad news for us.”


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