African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, has urged member states to ensure its African Standby Force (ASF) is fully operational by 2015.
He told the seventh meeting of the African Union (AU) specialised technical committee on defence, safety and security that the ASF was originally meant to be operational by 2010.
“Owing to delays, this deadline was pushed to 2015. It goes without saying that we simply cannot afford another postponement, otherwise the credibility of our collective undertaking will be eroded,” he said in Addis Ababa.
Chergui reinforced his plea by saying that in April last year a comprehensive assessment of the ASF, including its rapid deployment capability was recommended. This was followed in May by a decision, in principle, to immediately establish an African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) as a transitional arrangement ahead of the ASF becoming fully operational.
The decision, he said, was guided by the need to ensure Africa is in a better position to respond to peace and security challenges facing the continent.
“The situation in Mali, in particular, guided the AU Assembly in this decision. While the continent, in particular through ECOWAS and Chad, displayed a high level of solidarity and support to Mali, there is no doubt the AU response could have been more effective.
“As a result of our own constraints, we had to rely on the French Operation Serval to counter the offensive launched by the armed and terrorist groups in January last year. The Heads of State and Government, while appreciative of that support, felt and rightly so, that Africa, through its continental union and regional mechanisms, should have played the leadership role,” Chergui said.
To date 10 AU member states, including South Africa, have pledged support for ACIRC. They are Algeria, Angola, Chad, Liberia, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
The AU Commissioner sees ACIRC as “expediting the realisation” of ASF’s rapid deployment capability. This, in turn, will take another step forward in October when the final field training exercise for the ASF Roadmap III, takes place in Lesotho. According to an AU Peace and Security statement the exercise is seen as an evaluation of the state of readiness toward full operational capability of the ASF in two years’ time. A planning conference for the exercise was held in Gaborone, Botswana, in October.
General Sekouba Konate, AU high representative for operationalisation of the ASF, told the planning conference: “African leaders have made a landmark decision by opting to equip the AU with the ASF, in the light of the violent and resurgent conflicts that undermine development efforts and take a heavy toll in human lives”.