The time is ripe for an African Standby Force

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THE relative success of the Africa Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is a clear indication that regional driven peacekeeping missions can be successful. Moreso, successful regional peacekeeping missions have been undertaken in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Lesotho in the recent past. But the challenge, it appears, is the difference between the time an insurgency is started and the time it takes for the regional forces to intervene, Xinhua stated in a special report yesterday.

In the case of Somalia for instance, intervention by a regional force has taken more than 20 years. In the most recent case of Mali, the debate is still ranging on the mode of intervention as the rebels take more territory and amass more arms. Similarly, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the need for a regional force to protect civilians dominates public discussions, the report indicated.

However, when the idea of an African Standby Force (ASF) was mooted about 10 years ago, it raised optimism that the numerous wars in the continent would be contained as soon as they were started. ASF was meant to be a sort of a rapid reaction force that would have an early warning mechanism that for instance sends an advance party of conflict resolution and peace enforcement experts in a county showing signs of imminent conflict. It is planned to be a rapid reaction force, able to deploy in two weeks in cases of sporadic conflict and within 30 days of approval by the Africa Union (AU) Commission for normal operation. Most importantly, ASF was seen as a deterred to coups, rebel attacks and other threats to the sovereignty. The idea was not to protect regimes but the people. In Africa, the human consequence of war has been painful to the civilians, especially women and children. The Rwanda genocide in 1994 left no doubt about this fact.

In May, during the second African Land Forces Summit in Uganda, military leaders from 38 African countries call for a speedy finalisation of the setting of the ASF.

General Aronda Nyakairima of Uganda captured the mood among the gathered military leaders, saying that based on military experiences, regions understand their problems better and therefore operationalisation of a regionally structured ASF is the best idea. ASF has five brigades comprising civilian, military and police components. The brigades are divided among the five regional blocs of Eastern, Southern, Central, Western and Northern of Africa. Progress in establishing full brigades varies from region to region.

ASF’s full actualisation has been postponed nearly three times – first in 2008, then 2010, 2013 and now has been put to 2015. Delay in actualising ASF shows there is no really a deterrent to people with intentions to overthrow governments for instance or take control of sovereign territory. Rebels have more time to gain ground because of the lengthy nature of time it takes for the AU and the United Nations to agree on the deployment of the peacekeeping forces. The territorial gains by rebels also create demand for weapons. It also destabilises the civilian population and wipes out the gains they have made in building local economies. It prevents the flow of foreign direct investments.

The Africa Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka in a recent interview termed the trend of conflicts and the time it takes to resolve them as “worrying”. He cited the Sahel region as one of the hardest hit, with conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Guinea Bissau eroding the economic gains that had already been achieved there. It is estimated that conflicts in Africa cost the continent over $300 billion between 1990 and 2005, an amount equivalent to all the international aid received by sub-Saharan Africa in the same period, according to a study by Oxfam International, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and Saferworld.

While AU officials responsible for coordinating the development of the force attribute the delay to lack of funds, security experts said the main challenge facing the force is the lack of political will by some countries to support the idea.

“There are concerns from member states and regional blocks about the political command and control of the forces and operations of the ASF. They appear to fear, as contributing countries and regions, abrogating control to the AU Commission,” said a brief by the Institute of Security Studies, a pan-African think-tank in presentations made by Sivuyile Bam, the head of the AU Peace Support Operations Division (PSOD) and ISS’s Festus Aboagye.

There is also disagreement on whether ASF should be deployed under the UN Security Council or under the AU, with most of the blocs preferring deployment to be under the UN. Another challenge relating to the issue of political command and control has to do with the issue of mandates. It was noted that an interpretation of the AU’s Constitutive Act gives the AU the prerogative to mandate interventions without first deferring to the UN.

“This lack of consensus continues to be a problem and is becoming more prominent as 2015 draws nearer,” notes ISS. Proposals made on the funding of the force included increasing the proportion of member-state contributions that go to a peace fund from six per cent to 10 per cent, creating a Pan-African visa for which visitors pay $10 each, and levying a peace tax on African citizens.

The idea of the ASF gained momentum in 2003 after it became clearer that countries outside Africa were unwilling to participate in peacekeeping missions in the continent. It is only fair that African leaders solve the remaining issues and fast tract the operationalisation of the force.

African Command

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