TCS Daily

Joint African Force Nears Reality

By Stephen Mbogo - January 30, 2006 12:00 AM

NAIROBI - In the expansive, sun-baked desert of Sudan's western region of Darfur and across the border to Chad, the African Union (AU) estimates that 400,000 people have died since January 2003, when the continuing armed conflict started. In 36 months of fighting between two ethnic rebel groups on one hand and the Khartoum administration on the other, 11,111 people have died every month - or 370 people every day.

Yet, people like Patrick Maluki -- a peacekeeping expert and teacher at the Kenya's Defence Staff College -- believe the deaths and the war could have been avoided, but only if the much sought after African Standby Force (ASF) had been in place.

The form Organization of Africa Unity -- now known as the African Union -- first suggested the creation of an African Standby Force in 1993. But it was not until a decade later that an elaborate plan was drawn up and is only now being acted upon.

The idea is an outgrowth of a mantra which says "Africans should solve problems using African solutions." Reinforced by the New African Partnership for Development (NEPAD), the initiative, albeit slowly, is addressing socio-economic and political challenges that keep Africa from developing. Among those challenges, of course, is the frequency of regional conflict.

The ASF is being implemented under a protocol relating to the establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the AU. When completed, the force is envisaged to have multidisciplinary contingents, with civilian and military components in their countries of origin and readiness for rapid deployment after appropriate notice. The ASF also includes a conflict early warning mechanism that will allow the ASF to be ready before issues conflagrate.

Today, the five regional economic blocs in Africa have begun the process of setting up regional brigades that will form the continental force. The force, of 2000-3000 regional units will be deployable within 30 days of approval by the AU commission.

ASF implementation has proceeded in two phases:

Phase One required the AU to establish a strategic management capacity for regional observer missions deployed alongside United Nations missions. Phase One also required the regional economic blocs to establish specific forces up to brigade level.

That phase ended in June 2005.

"I could give it a success score of slightly above 50 per cent," says Maluki.

Although today African military personnel are active in peacekeeping missions within Africa (e.g. in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea-Ethiopia border, and the Ivory Coast) these are carried out under the United Nations auspices.

It is in Darfur, however, where African peacekeeping capability has proven itself. Although not under the ASF, the force there still only includes African military personnel - this following Khartoum's rejection of an international force. That reality could be a blessing for the efforts towards formation of a standby force, because it will provide lessons on weaknesses and strengths of peacekeeping mission by Africans.

Phase Two has now begun and will run until June 2010. Within this timeframe, AU is required to have developed the capacity to manage complex peacekeeping operations, while the five regions will continue to develop the capacity of their own forces.

Upon the completion of Phase Two, the ASF will have the following functions -- peacekeeping, intervention in unstable member state(s) upon request, conduct pre-emptive deployment, and peace-building operations (including post conflict disarmament, demobilization and humanitarian assistance).

The following is a breakdown of progress by region:

  • So far, the Western African Standby Brigade -- one of the regional brigades -- has made solid gains in forming its capability. Member states have already signed a memorandum of understanding, and about 6,500-strong military standby force will begin training this year.
  • Eastern African Standby Brigade has also established its structures. Headquartered in Ethiopia, the planning element of the outfit will be in Kenya. Staffing is in progress, to be followed by joint training sessions. Member countries have already donated military hardware to the brigade.
  • Northern African Standby Brigade's progress has delayed because the region does not have a strong economic organization, hence there is less inter-state coordination. There has also been competition between Libya and Egypt over who will host the brigade headquarters, but the region has given Libya a go-ahead.
  • The war in the DR Congo has dragged the progress of the Southern Africa Standby Brigade, although the brigade has established a regional early warning system.
  • For the Central Africa Standby Brigade, progress has been very slow. Such can be attributed to political instability in that region.

On the whole, however, progress has been made on capacity-building mechanisms. Several institutions have started offering capacity-building in three levels of peacekeeping operations: tactical, operational and strategic. Among them are the Kenya Peace Support Training Centre, the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre based in Ghana, Rwanda Military Academy, and Uganda's Senior Command and Staff College.

Success of the ASF will hinge on the ability of Africans to provide adequate funds towards the peacekeeping body's activities. For example, donation of military equipment by Eastern Africa Standby Brigade members was a good example that is likely to be replicated by other brigades. Development partners like the G-8, the United States and the European Union have donated to the force, although analysts here say sustainable funding mechanisms must be located if the ASF is to succeed in the longer term.

Stephen Mbogo is a writer based in Kenya.


1 Comment

What Reality?
By the time the Joint African Force is a reality there won't be anyone left to protect.

It sounds to me like the same old, same old.

A place for the connected of Africa to place their relatives with an eye toward skimming off whatever they can.

Is there anything actually happening behind the announcements of plans and agreements?

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