Guest Blogger: Matt Kuhlman
As AFRICA OSCs, it is imperative that we are informed on current events. One of the critical roles of our profession is to provide a country and region-specific perspective of events through a historical and cultural lens. If we think it is newsworthy to our leadership, then we need to stay in front of it. Fortunately, there are a lot of great sources of information available – often too many to process.
Since I first started reading the original Early Bird News many years ago, I’ve spent a decent amount of time browsing various websites trying to get the latest and greatest information. I do this so that I am as informed as possible on my country or region of responsibility, current political events, and DOD-specific news. Previous blogs from the AFRICA OSC provided a great list of books and publications for understanding the region and security cooperation specifically, but here are some of my go-to resources on the region, politics, and other subject areas to stay informed of the day-to-day changes. I don’t offer these to say that this is the right list for everyone or all-inclusive, rather and to offer options to others who are desperately sifting through the countless sources of information available. More importantly, I hope to start the conversation to see what else is available out there, so we all may benefit. Most are probably already familiar with the following:
● The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (https://africacenter.org/subscribe/) emails a daily round-up of news headlines across Africa along with a summary paragraph. The ACSS mailing list also provides information in French and Portuguese, along with other reports the Center publishes.
● AFRICOM Public Affairs Office also publishes a daily news headline summary similar to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. While there is some overlap between the two summaries, I found it useful to scan both of them. When I was in an embassy in Africa, I would scan the AFRICOM Public Affairs for stories of interest in the morning, then scan the ACSS summary when it was sent out in the late afternoon. Although this is largely Africa specific I’m certain each of the Geographic Combatant Command has similar news summaries available.
● Most U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Sections (PAS) publish a daily summary of news clippings for the country team. Each embassy has its own format, but it would be useful to read the same information a country team sees if the PAS is willing to add you to their distro list.
● If given the time, and the local news outlets have internet websites, it can be useful to scan the local newspaper(s) of your country or region to see what is reported in the local news, understand what matters to the local readers, and perhaps the opportunity to practice your reading comprehension in your target language.
Finally, I subscribed to the daily email/blog from Ambassador David H. Shinn (http://davidshinn.blogspot.com/p/about-ambassador-shinn.html) Ambassador Shinn (retired) was a career diplomat focused on Africa and is now on the faculty of George Washington University. His blog is unique because he does not provide headline clippings, but rather links to recent research and studies from various individuals and organizations across the world, a summary of the content, and his brief opinion on the subject. I find it beneficial to read an experienced diplomat’s opinion on various topics relevant to Africa. However, the following are not region-specific but publish information that is worthwhile for our profession that is often overlooked:
● Politico’s Morning Defense (https://www.politico.com/morningdefense/) examines the latest news in defense policy and defense politics. After spending a D.C. tour on the Army staff, I found it useful to stay up to date on the newest defense matters on Capitol Hill and within the Pentagon and various agencies. For those that are unfamiliar with the legislative process for Defense authorizations and appropriations, this is a useful source.
● The Security Assistance Monitor (https://securityassistance.org/) documents all publicly accessible information on U.S. security and defense assistance programs throughout the world, including arms sales, military and police aid, training programs, exercises, exchanges, bases, and deployments. The Weekly Monitor is their weekly email that highlights Security Assistance related news, research, data, factsheets, Congressional Notifications and events.
● Google Alerts: I have set up daily google alerts for the country I am assigned to or for which I have a responsibility as a desk officer. This service sends an email to you, based on the desired frequency, when it finds results—such as web pages, newspaper articles, blogs, or research—that match the search term entered, such as “al Shabaab,” or “Uganda.”
The above list can appear quite daunting, but by no measure do I read all the information and news stories that I receive in my email. I skim through the headlines to see if anything is relevant or noteworthy, digging deeper for relevant stories. Even if I scan the headlines, I find that it gives me a good idea of what is going on across the region and the world.
What other sources of information are regional specific or relevant to FAOs?