Capacity-building, peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance under the spotlight at SADC Standing Aviation Committee meeting

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The Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, recently hosted the 21st Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standing Aviation Committee forum, which covered a range of pressing topics, from air force capacity building to the need for strategic airlift for regional peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance missions.

The forum was held from 24 to 29 February in Cape Town and attended by representatives from Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Captain Tebogo August, Editor of Ad Astra Magazine, reported Mbambo as saying the forum gathered to “illustrate the significance of SADC region airspace in curbing hostilities and manage disasters of all kinds but also to harmonise doctrines and build capacity for self-reliance.

“To all Air Chiefs in attendance, the SADC Secretariat and all esteemed guests, the peace and stability in our region can easily be likened to a wet bar soap, it is very slippery, making it very difficult to hold firm with confidence. The reports we have received from developments in SAMIM [SADC Mission in Mozambique] and the Democratic Republic of the Congo confirm that the journey towards peace destination is still some few nautical miles away and our flight path is full of serious turbulences.

“The tasks before us are on the rise given the challenges our region is experiencing. The world is not a safer place as tensions and conflicts are on the rise with greater demand placed on our air assets It was clear from our frank engagements that air assets availability at all levels, more especially strategic airlift is paramount to support the ongoing missions.”

Mbambo said the meeting articulated itself very well on the matters that require higher organs’ attention and those issues that need the Standing Aviation Committee’s immediate attention.

The SADC Standing Aviation Committee usually meets once a year, on a rotational basis among members. The meetings are convened in line with the aims and ideals of the SADC Inter-State Defence and Security Committee (ISDSC). Established in 1977, the ISDSC is a forum for defence and security co-operation and played a crucial role in the liberation struggles of SADC members.

Namibian Air Vice Marshal Teofelus Shaende, the outgoing Chairman of the Standing Aviation Committee, stated, “This being the 21st Standing Aviation Committee, it means we should remain extremely alert. We have done plenty of exercises, traversed borders and terrains, tested and improved inter-operability of both men and machines, created synergy. In other words, collectively, we have amassed hours of experience in training to respond to humanitarian situations. Thus, we are more than ready for the real business under the new Chairmanship of Lieutenant General Wiseman Simo Mbambo of the South African Air Force. He has all our support in ensuring that the Standing Aviation Community remains a well-organized body within the sub organs of SADC and African Union.”

The exercises Shaende alluded to are the ‘blue’ series focussing on humanitarian relief by SADC members to improve co-ordination and co-operation among air forces and air wings in joint air operations. The SADC Standing Aviation Committee decided to hold a ‘blue’ exercise approximately every two years, starting with Exercise Blue Hungwe in Zimbabwe in 1997. Other blue series exercises by SADC air arms have taken place in South Africa (Blue Crane in 1999, Blue Cluster in 2011), Tanzania (Blue Ruvuma in 2006), Angola (Blue Zambezi in 2011), Zimbabwe (Blue Leopard in 2013), Botswana (Blue Okavango in 2015), and Namibia (Blue Kunene in 2017).

Speaking at the February forum, the Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Rhudzani Maphwanya, said that SADC region members need to come together to share ideas, successes and problems, and help make Africa a great place again.

“We remember our soldiers who fell with their boots on in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique, they have paid the supreme sacrifice,” Maphwanya told the forum in reference to soldiers killed while serving with SAMIM, the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission in the DRC and the new SADC Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC).

“On behalf of our President, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, and the people of South Africa, I am honoured to be part of a collective that is committed to foster cooperation in aviation space, which is pivotal, considering the dynamic challenges and opportunities that characterise the change in the contemporary way of warfare. A platform for sharing insights, strategies and resources to strengthen our aviation capacities.

“It is an undeniable fact that geopolitical conflicts continue to strain international relations and geopolitical rivalry contribute to uncertainty and potential conflicts in various regions. Our continent of Africa and her regions, SADC included, are not spared of these developments.

“Making concrete decisions, will mitigate risks in an uncertain tomorrow, which is more important than ever, when looking at development both in Europe and the Middle East.

“We therefore need to emphasise the need for investment in efficient infrastructure, the equipment retention as well as aerospace industry growth because our woes have always been economic concerns and funding. Therefore, we have a responsibility to inform our principals to really look as the aviation environment as the critical element in the defence of our countries and our region.

“Our shared commitment to fostering peace, stability and prosperity through aviation capabilities binds us together in a common purpose. We need to strive for an inherent self-reliance strategy because it is only when we can do things for ourselves, that we will be the masters of our own destiny,” Maphwanya concluded.