Umodzi means “solidarity, partnership and oneness” in Malawian chiChewa and is an apt description of the just completed Southern African Development Community (SADC) command post exercise (CPX).
The exercise was final preparation for the regional bloc ahead of it taking over command of the African Union (AU) African Standby Force (ASF) next year. According to the SADC secretariat southern Africa “is expected to assume its peacekeeping responsibilities at continental level under the ASF” in just over two months. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is the current lead of the ASF roster.
An SADC publication reports: “The ASF is an important tool of the African peace and security architecture for prevention, management and resolution of conflicts on the continent. It is a multi-disciplinary peacekeeping force consisting of military, police and civilian contingents deployed to respond swiftly to a crisis unhampered by political and instrumental burdens.
“The ASF, which became fully operational in 2016, is based on standby arrangements among Africa’s five sub-regions of North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa.”
Agreement was reached for the Regional Economic Communities or Regional Mechanisms in the AU to lead the ASF on a six-monthly rotational basis.
The SADC Standby Force or Brigade was established through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by SADC Heads of States and Government in Lusaka, Zambia in 2007.
The SADC force operates as a tool of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation and receives direction and guidance from the SADC Committee of Chiefs of Defence staff and the Committee of SADC Police Chiefs to provide peacebuilding efforts in the southern African region.
These include post-conflict disarmament and demobilisation; humanitarian assistance in conflict areas and areas impacted by major natural disasters such as drought and floods.
Training of personnel is conducted by the SADC Regional Peacekeeping Training Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe as well as other national peace support training institutions.
In preparation to assume its peacekeeping duties at continental level, SADC staged a number of military exercises the latest and last one prior to the block taking over the continental peacekeeping responsibility one being Exercise Umodzi.
SADC military exercises go back to Blue Hungwe in Zimbabwe in 1997. Others were Blue Crane in South Africa in 1999, Exercise Thokgamo in Botswana in 2005, Exercise Golfino in South Africa in2006 and Exercise Amani Africa 11, the final phase of which was at the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) in Northern Cape two years ago.
SADC member states taking part in Umodzi were Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), eSwatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.