Ten African countries, including host South Africa, met in Pretoria this week to plot the way forward for the nascent African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) force to become reality.
It is a precursor to the long-awaited African Standby Force (ASF), first mooted by the African Union (AU) more than a decade ago.
In addition to South Africa, Ethiopia and Uganda are to date the only countries to pledge troops and equipment to ACIRC and both had representation at the summit at the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) conference centre. The AU has 54 member states.
Other countries present were Algeria, Angola, Chad, Ghana, Niger, Sudan and Tanzania.
Opening the summit President Jacob Zuma said the decision to establish the ACIRC came about “due to the realisation that independent and swift African response to crises that arise on our continent cannot wait while the building blocks of the ASF are carefully being put into place”.
“While we fully support the realisation of a standby force, we believe the time has come that African leaders must be able to act in the interim, swiftly decisively and when needed.
“We realise we should have our own capabilities that would obviate the need to call on external partners to assist – Mali is still fresh in our minds,” the President, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), said.
To be able to implement operations, ACIRC should have at least 1 500 troops structured as an integrated combat unit. Musterings should include both standard and specialist military from troop donating countries and the force has to be able to deploy at short notice. It is envisaged for operational deployments to be selected from a continental pool of about 5 000.
According to a statement issued after the summit, political leaders agreed to establish a working group made up of all chiefs of defence of troop volunteering countries. Heads of state would set up agreed guidelines to direct the working group.
AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, told the gathering the continent was unable to respond appropriately to the crisis in Mali, something he said further strengthened calls for an emergency force to be put in place immediately.
“We have also seen from the situation in Central African Republic (CAR) that such a mechanism is needed. The existence of ACIRC will make us respond more promptly. So this meeting is a milestone and an appropriate forum to mobilise member states to support the initiative by pledging troops and financial resources.”