Seeking Strength Through Understanding
I am professional Army Officer and have had the opportunity to live and work in many parts of the world but as a Foreign Area Officer, I have specifically focused upon Africa.
Despite the end of the Colonial Period and the end of the Cold War, we in the West continue to misunderstand Africa—or more precisely, misunderstand Africans. The eminent African philosopher Achille Mbembe wryly observed that our culturally dislocated analysis of today has “undermined the very possibility of understanding African economic and political facts.” This misunderstanding perpetuates popular stereotypes where “political imagination is in Africa held incomprehensible, pathological, and abnormal. War is seen as all-pervasive.” These misperceptions are neither accurate nor helpful. The human experience—the observations and feelings of individuals who lived through these times—is critical to understanding.
The “developed world,” the “West,” or “modernity” has a great deal of things to learn from the people of Africa. Today, Africans are charting their own path: they are neither on the road to perdition nor to redemption. As Stephen Ellis notes in his book, “Season of Rains: Africa in the World,” African traditions of thought have much that others can learn from—if others are willing to listen.
But we can only understand if we listen carefully.
As a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, I have witnessed numerous conflicts and wars. My experiences in war and peace have made me confront and reflect on these events and their causes. Despite continued research and reflection, however, I remain unsatisfied with narratives about war and conflict, especially in Africa, and believe that stereotypes and misperceptions continue to distort our understanding Africa and Africans. I hope to tell their story and I want their story to be told: it is important and has much to teach us.
Pens, Ploughs, and Swords: The Power of the Pen
You must get an education. You must go to school, and you must learn to protect yourself. And you must learn to protect yourself with the pen, and not the gun.–Josephine Baker
My travels have encouraged me to write down my observations and thoughts, inspiring and challenging our common understanding, assumptions, and stereotypes about these places and about the people who live there. This has further driven me to seek understanding and share my experiences, often through my writing but occasionally through presenting. In all cases, by confronting truth and as Josephine Baker admonishes: seeking to wield the power of the pen.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.–George Orwell: “Politics and the English Language“
I have been fortunate enough to speak about some of these experiences as well as my work in working with partners in order to improve peace and security. The focus has largely been security cooperation but also security and foreign affairs in Africa. In all cases, however, I find inspiration in George Orwell’s words: clarity of thought. This drives at the heart of Michel de Montaigne’s essais: an attempt at distilled perfection and clarity.
Humility is truth.–Erasmus
And my travels, my writing, and my speaking have inspired me to inquire further to learn more about why there is so much conflict and what we can do about it. Truth has power and I seek to build strength through understanding: an understanding based upon our lived and shared human experience and multicultural, interdisciplinary approach to knowledge.