The European: Monsieur Salami, you are the Head of the Re- gional Secretariat for the African Atlantic Façade (AAF), one of the eight regions in the CBRN Centres of Excellence initiative (EU CBRN CoE) set up by the European Union in 2010. Today, this initiative encompasses 61 Partner Countries and fosters national, regional and interregional cooperation throughout the world to better anticipate chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents or disasters. What is the role of the Director of a Regional Secretariat?
Mohamed Salami: The role of the Director of a Regional Sec- retariat is enshrined in the charter of Regional Secretariats of the EU CBRN CoE. The Director liaises with member countries, particularly on political and legal issues. He forges consensus among member countries of the Centres of Excellence in his region and liaises with them and the relevant stakeholders, including EU delegations and international and regional organ- isations, EU Member States and donors present in the region. Finally, the Director contributes to the drafting of project pro- posals on the basis of regional needs.
The European: If I understand you correctly then, the charter is identical for all regions. But given the big differences between them, how are the specific needs of each region taken into account?
Mohamed Salami: Yes, you are right, the charter is indeed the same for all regions, but each region has its own specificities. That is why the person who is appointed Head of the Regional Secretariat may take initiatives of his own, as long as they are consistent with the general philosophy and the principles un- derlying the initiative. This means that the Head of the Regional Secretariat has to be able to devise responses to the various challenges facing his region, beyond those advocated by the charter.
The European: Are we talking here mainly of national projects or are there joint projects coordinated with other partners in the region? And what is the role of the European Commission, or more particularly DG DEVCO, in the projects initiated in the eight regions?
Mohamed Salami: The projects and their goals are usually
the result of needs expressed by the regions themselves. Each region has its own methodology, established jointly by the Regional Secretariat and the various National Focal Points (NFPs) that have been designated in each country of a Region under the EU CBRN CoE initiative. Each project produces its own terms of reference. These are initially drafted by the Regional Secretariat, then discussed and endorsed by the NFPs, before being submitted to the EU for approval. This is where DEVCO comes in. It considers each project on its merits, ensures its consistency with the objectives of the initiative as well as its legal and financial feasibility. After this detailed consideration, DEVCO decides whether it is prepared to fund the project or not. Naturally, in the course of this process, UNICRI (United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute) and the JRC (Joint Research Centre), who are essential partners of the initiative, contribute their expertise and their support.
The European: We can conclude therefore that projects have a regional vocation and are proposed jointly by the countries of the region in response to a common need. You referred to the funding, could you expand a little on that issue?
Mohamed Salami: Generally speaking, the projects are funded by the EU under the Stability instrument and within the budget granted to the initiative by the European Commission. This being said, in the AAF region the Regional Secretariat has started to seek funding from other donors and there has been a promising start to the initiation and implementation of other projects, in particular with the USA.
The European: Turning particularly to your region, can you say more about the projects that have been initiated, your objec- tives and your success stories?
Mohamed Salami: So far, the AAF region has benefitted from several projects covering various areas, responding to different problems in respect of CBRNe risks. By way of example, there
are projects addressing the improvement of preparedness and intervention in the CBRNe area, the management of dan- gerous chemical and biological waste, risk management in high risk chemical facilities, strengthening the regional management of epidemics, boosting border checks on CBRNe substances, the transport of hazardous substances by road and rail, etc…
The vast majority of projects selected concern training courses and field exercises. Since 2013, there have been hundreds and even thousands of people who have participated in these courses and exercises.
The European: There is no doubt then that the EU CBRN CoE initiative has created real momentum in all the countries of the region.
Mohamed Salami: …yes indeed, the results are palpable at na- tional level, particularly in terms of working effectively together to analyse the risks, identify threats and sensitive areas, reflect on preventive and mitigating actions and of course on possible corrective action. This also true at the level of the AAF region, where we have definitely made great progress. The milestones for cooperation between the partner countries have been laid down, with the ultimate goal of unifying working methodolo- gies, standardising procedures and ultimately, drafting agree- ments for bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
The European: And internationally?
Mohamed Salami: On the international level, the work with the EU and UNICRI, as well as with other Regional Secretariats, has started to produce tangible benefits in terms of exchanges on best practices, and above all, in increasing awareness of the importance of sharing the same values and approaches to common security, and of course, in developing a culture of risk prevention and mitigation.
The European: In 2019, you launched a university project which is unique in its approach and could be used as an example on CBRNe for other regions: you have established at the International University of Rabat, with the support of the Moroccan government and the National Focal Points of the AAF region partner countries, an African Masters programme, taught in French, on the reduction of CBRNe risks. What is the thinking behind this new programme and what are the subjects taught?
Mohamed Salami: Yes, indeed, the basic idea for this project goes back to 2017. It was the result of an insight but also the logical follow-up to all the training courses that have been organised in the region. As we reviewed the situation of differ- ent African countries on the Atlantic Façade, and considering their feedback, we realised that there is a lack of highly trained experts in the general area of CBRNe risks and a definite need for highly qualified resource persons in each country.
The European: For whom is this new programme intended and what are the subjects taught?
Mohamed Salami: The specialised CBRNe African Masters pro- gramme is aimed initially at French speaking countries in the region, to be extended later to English speaking countries. The curriculum will cover a wide range of issues concerning CBRNe risks and threats. These will include terrorism related threats (a “dirty” bomb, diversion of chemicals for terrorist purposes, their use …) the management of industrial risks and accidents as well as the management of epidemics.
The European: Will your CBRN Masters also propose more specialised subjects?
Mohamed Salami: Yes of course, we shall propose specialised courses, like for instance, “the biological versus the physiolog- ical impacts of biological agents”, “the sociology of crowds in degraded conditions” or “the toxicology of malicious acts”.
The European: Will the course also include practical exercises? Mohamed Salami: Yes, the Masters programme will give stu- dents the opportunity to do table top exercises, like the CBRNe preparation for a summit of heads of state, as well as field exercises like decontamination in a radiologically contaminated environment.
The European: Will you be cooperating with other universities on this programme?
Mohamed Salami: The specialised CBRNe African Masters pro- gramme will be organised in collaboration with a French univer- sity (l’Université de Haute Alsace) which has been running this course in France for many years. The International University of Rabat will participate in the project as part of an international partnership that will enable it to take root on African soil. This is in line with a fundamental principle of the project which is to give the African partners a feeling of ownership of their course. The eventual aim of course is to reduce the number of Europe- an teachers and have a majority of African teachers.
The European: Will the diploma be recognised internationally? Mohamed Salami: The CBRNe Masters has been taught in France for many years and the diploma is recognised by the “conférence des grandes écoles”. This being the case, there is no reason in principle why the same course taught in Africa should not be recognised as well.
The European: What is the overall length of the course? And has the teaching already begun?
Mohamed Salami: The project is almost ready to launch and teaching should start this year. The course will comprise five periods of 15 consecutive days, within a maximum of 12 months. Four of the 15-day sessions will be taught in Moroc- co and one will take place in France, where the students will be able to train on a technical platform simulating real world conditions.
The European: What are the selection criteria for candidates applying to the programme?
Mohamed Salami: 25 candidates will be selected in a two-stage process.
The National Focal Points will make an initial selection to ensure a balanced representation of the relevant depart- ments and ministries. The NFPs will then propose to the AAF Regional Secretariat a list of candidates who have completed five years of higher education or equiva- lent, whom they have selected on the basis of their student re- cords. In the second stage, the Regional Secretariat will select candidates on the basis of their career history forwarded by the NFPs. The candidates proposed by the NFPs must hold an exec- utive function and most of them must come from a government department. Exceptionally, some candidates may come from a private company or a Non-Governmental Organisation.
The European: Will the Masters also be open to students from outside the AAF Region?
Mohamed Salami: Yes, in principle, the CBRNe Masters could be opened up to other regions and there is no reason why candidates from countries that don’t have an Atlantic façade should not be able to benefit from it, as long as they comply with the selection criteria of course. That being said, I think ideally that we should conduct this first experimental session solely for the benefit of the countries of the African Atlantic Façade before opening it up to others.
The European: This specialised Masters programme is there- fore the first university course in Africa that will train highly qualified professionals in the reduction of CBRNe risks. What role will the experts who have completed this training be able to play in their respective countries to advance the cause of reducing CBRNe risks?
Mohamed Salami: This specialised university course will help countries to have high level experts and strengthen capacity in these areas in every country. These experts will be able to help governments to develop their national policies and strategies to reduce CBRNe risks and become a stimulus and a guiding light for their national authorities. As the first course of this kind in Africa, the CBRNe Masters is a pro-active way of antici- pating developments on the African continent. The training of executives in these areas will also enable national governments to call on local expertise in devising their policies.
The European: What benefits are you expecting in terms of regional cooperation from this high level training course and how will the specialised African Masters support the work of the National Focal Points and the projects of the EU CBRN CoE initiative?
Mohamed Salami: Our project on the African Atlantic Façade aims to give ministerial advisers the keys to a better under- standing of the issues on which they are called on to advise political decision makers. Giving these advisers the necessary knowledge in the area of CBRNe is a first step. A further objec- tive is to encourage them to think about the necessary links between ministries on all CBRNe subjects and to put an end to the silo mentality. Indeed, CBRNe issues, whether we are talk- ing about prevention, preparation, responses or rehabilitation, always require concerted action by a whole host of experts, administrations and other bodies.
The European: Yes, it is certainly true that CBRNe in general is the area that requires the most pluridisciplinarity….
Mohamed Salami: …yes, indeed, by training executive staff from different administrations (police, fire service, health ser- vice, defence….) and from different countries and cultures, the pluridisciplinary approach will not only be taught but will also become a reality among the trainees. This will be a source of enrichment for participants who will be able, during numerous discussions among themselves or with their teachers, to ex- change views, technical knowledge and compare their respec- tive approaches (cultural, social, professional…).
The European: This means that the graduates will not only be useful to their countries but will also promote regional cooperation.
Mohamed Salami: Yes of course, because it is far easier
to bring about regional cooperation, when executives have been through the same training course, can speak the same language and form convergent views on matters of common interest. Finally, we should not forget the role that this type of training can play in the medium and long-term consolidation of the principles behind the initiative and its considerable influ- ence on the development of a culture of collective security that we are all striving for.
The European: Monsieur Salami, many thanks for this inter- view; we wish you every success in your future endeavours.
The Interview was led by Nannette Cazaubon in Rabat.