AU pushes ahead with African Standby Force


The African Union (AU) believes Africa will have a united and functioning single military by the end of this year as leaders on Monday pledged to accelerate the operationalisation of the African Standby Force (ASF).

This is one of the resolutions adopted at the 25th AU Summit which ended in Johannesburg on Monday night.

The continent desperately needs a strong force for peace and security that would ensure the continent has the stability it needs for sustainable development to take root, official South African government news publication SAnews reported.

Such a force would also be crucial to counter terrorists groups like Boko Haram and al Shabaab that have killed thousands of people and displaced many in West Africa. The envisaged 25 000-strong ASF operating through five regional brigades is expected to be the backbone of the continent’s new peace and security architecture.

AU Chairperson Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe confirmed that the first training exercises for the force would be held in South Africa towards the end of October. It is hoped that by the end of the year, all regions will be ready to form part of the single force.

The field training exercise Amani Africa II is one of the AU’s main tools to support the African Standby Force. South Africa will be hosting this exercise from 19 October to 07 November 2015, most likely at the SA Army Combat Training Centre at Lohatla in the Northern Cape. Last year the SA National Defence Force’s annual force preparation exercise Seboka at Lohatla took on a different image when it became South Africa’s most visible training preparation yet for the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), a standby force to serve until such time as the long-awaited ASF can be mobilised and deployed.

Reading from the declaration of the summit, President Mugabe noted that the “troubling” state of peace and security in the continent needed to be given attention.
“We condemn the act of terrorisms committed by extremists across Africa and we resolved to confront terrorism collectively in order to defeat it,” he said.

In May, South African defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that South Africa has been in the forefront of the establishment of the ACIRC to deal with security challenges on the Continent. During 2014, the SANDF prepared its pledged force to reach an interim operational capacity by 30 September 2015, and a full operational capacity by 30 November of the same year.

African Ministers met last month at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to confirm the commitment made by the African Chiefs of Defence that the African Standby Force must be in place and operational by December 2015.
“Recently the SANDF became part of the newly established African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis, which is an interim mechanism to assist in peace and security in the continent until such time that the African Standby Force is ready. South Africa has pledged a Battalion which is being prepared and almost ready and can be deployed if so required by the African Union. The standby force is a very important initiative by the continent because it enables us to provide African solutions to African problems,” President Jacob Zuma said in February this year.

Other topics under discussion at the AU summit included the political crisis in Burundi, and ways to fund the AU operations. Leaders resolved to intensify their effort to address the issue of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, and improving infrastructure and technology advancement on the continent. With thousands of African migrants losing their lives in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach greener pastures in Europe, the issues of migration is evidently a worrying issue for the AU, SAnews reports.

The summit was, however, overshadowed by the participation of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes. The ICC on Sunday urged the South African government to arrest the Sudanese leader.

But AU Commission Chairperson Dr Nkosaza-Dlamini Zuma defended the continental body’s decision to invite al-Bashir. Dlamini-Zuma said the AU was not party to the Roman statute but member states were.
“He has always attended out summits, this was not the first time. The AU is not a bilateral meeting, it is a multilateral meeting. When a country hosts an AU summit it sticks by the AU rules. President al-Bashir has always attended our summits and will continue to do so,” said Dlamini-Zuma.