Managing Expectations: Creating, Solving and Eliminating Problems Created by AFRICA OSCs


You have been on the ground now for thirty days, and you have your second meeting with your interlocutor with the partner nation.  What type of meeting preparation have you done for this meeting?  Do you know the topics of the meeting?  Are you ready for any ambushes?  Do you know what you can and cannot commit to?  How do you culturally manage expectations with your partner nation?  How did your predecessor do it (or not)?

You are your worst enemy

The new, energetic, and motivated AFRICA OSC is the most successful or dangerous person a partner nation can receive.  The overall business of an AFRICA OSC is to manage Security Cooperation and Assistance, and they are charged with doing so under the auspices of United States policies and strategies, and the partner nation’s policies and strategies.  I wonder how many new AFRICA OSCs read the following before arriving at their Embassy?

Security Assistance Management Manual (SAMM)

C2.1.3.6. Partner Nation Interface.

C2. Partner Nation Strategic Planning. Whenever possible, the SCO assists the partner nation in strategic planning and informs partner nation decision-making concerning the procurement of U.S. equipment, training, and services. SCOs encourage the pursuit of U.S. military equipment and training appropriate to the partner nation’s strategic environment, technical capability, and ability to reasonably afford and maintain this equipment.

C2. Avoiding False Impressions. SCOs must avoid creating false impressions of USG readiness to make available military materiel, technology, or information. Without specific existing authority, the only information that may be shared with a partner nation is that which has been cleared for public release. Therefore, planning and coordination with foreign governments concerning programs that might involve the eventual disclosure of military information may be conducted only if such action is coordinated with a designated disclosure official from the DoD organization with purview over the information or materiel. Further, SCOs must ensure partner nation representatives understand and acknowledge that no U.S. commitment to furnish information or materiel is intended or implied until disclosure has been approved. Finally, SCOs must also avoid creating false impressions of USG willingness or ability to provide resources to the partner nation (e.g., appropriated funds such as FMF or equivalent support such as an Exercise Related Construction project) before receiving official notification of approval through USG channels.”

What are some of the problems AFRICA OSCs create?

Promises that get broken

Sometimes the AFRICA OSC creates these, and sometimes a change in policy or strategy causes them.  Either way, your replacement will have to deal with it.  If possible, take some time to write down the history of why this “promise” was broken, if it was even ever a promise.  The partner nation could just be trying to get something from you that every one of the past AFRICA OSCs has agreed to look into only to be told no by the combatant command or service provider.  Perhaps a partner nation wants the State Partnership Program, and the AFRICA OSC failed to say to them there was more than one country being considered.  By submitting the request letter, the partner nation might believe they are already approved.  Another example is the promise of hosting an exercise without asking the component first.  Broken promises tend to be legacy issues that sometimes are solved, sometimes are not solved, and other times they might trickle away and disappear.

Expectations of an event

This one is hard, especially when the combatant command or component is looking for a place to do an exercise, conference, or a military to military events.  The unit may ask you to ask the partner nation if the partner nation would like to do one of these events in their country (or not).  Once the partner nation answers yes, then there is an awkward time of whether or not it was decided to do it there or not.  This one is close to the broken promise, but not as bad.

Assessments, assessments, and more assessments without any deliverables

Every time I see an M2M event that says “assessment,” I cringe.  So they go there and assess, then what?  Is their assessment shared with the partner nation (no), is the assessment included in a long-term engagement plan (more than likely no).  Is it possible that the AFRICA OSC was an Army Engineer Officer and wanted to help the partner nation Engineer Battalion, so they requested an M2M event?  Before the component would come and do regular M2M events, they decided they needed to do an assessment first.  After the assessment, the component engineer officer PCS’d, and was replaced by a military intelligence officer.  The AFRICA OSC also PCS’d and was replaced by an aviator who cared more about the newly arrived helicopters.  At a graduation ceremony, the new AFRICA OSC is introduced to the partner nation Engineer Battalion Commander, and the Commander asks the new AFRICA OSC – “I never received the report from the assessment your predecessor promised me.  We are looking forward to continuing the engagement Major XXX started.  We very much are interested in the different types of counter-IED training and equipment he said was available.  How about we have a meeting next week, and you can update me on the outcomes of the assessment and where we go from here?”  The new AFRICA OSC has no clue about the previous assessment, nor is he aware of any follow-on plans.

Focusing on only one military service or branch

I’ve seen this a few times now, and it can be good or dangerous, depending on the situation.  It will always be difficult for an Army AFRICA OSC to work with the partner nation Navy or an Air Force AFRICA OSC to work with the partner nation Special Forces, etc.  Some people tend to gravitate towards what they know and what is easy.  In the AFRICA OSC world, some also get caught into the “accomplish something” trap and start moving resources towards one service over the other.  Perhaps the AFRICA OSC can “get along” better with her sister service in the partner nation, spends more time socializing with that service, and eventually finds that the other services are “as capable” or “their willingness” isn’t there.  Perhaps their willingness isn’t there because they don’t know the AFRICA OSC?

Yes to everything, or no to everything

Personalities do matter in this business.  The Positive Philip versus the Negative Nancy can make a big difference.  The YES AFRICA OSC may be a pleaser, afraid to say no, an overconfident person, or in a country where everything gets approved.  The NO AFRICA OSC may be applying US military standards to their partner nation, and more than likely are overly negative towards anything.  Can you imagine a situation where a Negative Nadine is replaced with a Positive Paula, or a Positive Philip is replaced with a Negative Nathan?  How does the partner nation respond to this?  Can you further imagine that in some small partner nations, the counterpart of the AFRICA OSC has worked with the past five to ten AFRICA OSCs?

Individual programs without a follow-on plan or purpose

When an AFRICA OSC really is jiving in their job, they look to move to the next level.  Some of these levels could be working in an interagency environment in Global Health, HIV/AIDS, Women, Peace & Security, SGI, DEA, Fingerprinting, Counter-illicit financing, Canine training, etc.  These initiatives are all great, but they tend to be one-offs and possibly create several of the issues stated above: broken promises, the expectation of a future event(s), etc.  What happens when the new AFRICA OSC comes in and is overwhelmed with the basics and doesn’t have the time to invest in these “special projects?”  What happens when the funding from Presidential Initiative dries up when a new President is elected?  An AFRICA OSC must look past the “I can” and into the “should we” and furthermore into the “will this last” conversation.

Eliminating Problems

Well, hopefully, AFRICA OSCs will read the guidance in the SAMM and go forth with caution every day.  The most significant concept to understand is: you are executing the programs your predecessor planned and planning the programs your replacement will execute.  A lot of what has been highlighted in this blog are personality issues, take the time to realize that you and the programs that you implement should not be personal.  It would be best if you also thought about whether or not your replacement will have the same passion for something as you do.  Accomplishing a “shiny laser point” on a PowerPoint briefing at the combatant command might get you promoted, but what will it actually accomplish in five years?  As a steward of taxpayer dollars, we must all ensure our programs have longevity and achieve our national security strategy.

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