Analysts have welcomed an African Union (AU) resolution to create a rapid response force that will help Africa militarily respond swiftly to emergency situations. At the same time they caution it is too early to make meaningful judgments on the new force.
Weeks after the AU summit in Addis Ababa adopted the decision to establish the African Immediate Crisis Response Capacity (AICRC), analysts said it was too early to make any conclusions about the mechanism now apparently going to be tasked with bringing peace and stability to the continent.
AU Commission chair Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said the decision to form AICRC, championed by South Africa, was informed by the overwhelming dependence of the Union on funds provided by partners. This directly affects implementation of African solutions to African problems, she said.
Last month the AU specialised technical committee on defence, safety and security pointed out there was “still a way to go” before the rapid deployment capability (RDC) of its African Standby Force (ASF) could become operational.
A report issued following a meeting of AU Chiefs of Staff said the Malian crisis highlighted the need to “expedite operationalisation of the RDC and accelerate establishment of the ASF”.
This was echoed by former Africom Commander, General Carter F Ham, who said Mali was an example of why Africa needed to invest in a standby capability.
“If Africa could have deployed a standby force, Mali might be in a different situation today,” he said earlier this year.
Leaders point out for instance, that 100% of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) is funded by partners. It represents an annual budget of $500 million. In the same vein, African leaders agreed that in the case of the armed rebellion in Mali, Africa could have moved faster and made the French intervention dispensable if it had the appropriate tools and mechanisms.
Lessening dependence on partners
As Africa marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (now the AU), leaders of the continent felt it unfortunate that after 50 years of independence, African security was still so dependent on foreign partners, Dlamini Zuma said.
To date, South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia have pledged to implement the decision on the establishment of the AICRC capacity.
On a voluntary basis, AU member states will contribute troops and finance the capacity so as to act independently. Command and control will be ensured by the AU Peace and Security Council on request from a member state for intervention.
David Zoumenou, a researcher and analyst at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said any AU military unit needs sufficient resources if it is to carry out its mission effectively.
“I say if you give it power and resources, any structure can work. But how do we resolve the financial problem, because the AU already has the Peace and Security Council but we seem to lack the political will needed to get it functioning.
“I do not think we need new mechanisms if we cannot provide resources for the existing ones,” he said.
AICRC is an interim tool, as the mooted African Standby force (ASF) is expected to be operational by 2015.
Mzoxolo Mpolase, an analyst at Political Analysis South Africa, said while the idea of establishing an armed rapid response mechanism was a noble one, questions needed to be asked around its funding.
“The idea is good, no doubt about it. But who will be funding it? The fact that the AU is funded almost 100% by external parties is because African countries cannot fund it. We need to really think about how this will be funded because it will be taxing to those countries that contribute troops.
“It’s hardly ever the case when it comes to bilateral relations whereby I give you money and don’t expect something in return. Countries who give you aid will tell you how that aid is to be spent.”
For the AU to achieve self-reliance, said Mpolase, its members should look for self-reliance themselves.
“The AU is a by-product of what is happening in the countries. If you have a case as you have in Malawi, where a country relies on foreign aid, it makes sense that the AU will also be funded by aid because the very countries that it has as members are funded by aid.”
African Standby Force
Efforts to make the ASF and its rapid deployment capability reality go back as far as 2002 when the AU Peace and Security Architecture was established. It is designed as a set of institutions and standards to facilitate conflict prevention.
The ASF consists of multi-disciplinary contingents based in own countries and ready for rapid deployment as and when required. Its mandate includes observation and monitoring missions, humanitarian assistance, more complex peace support missions, intervention in “grave circumstances” and the restoration of peace and security as well as preventive deployment and peace building.
To fill the gap before the RDC leg of the ASF is properly up and running, the technical committee proposed “an urgently needed operational collective security instrument” to promote “as far as possible, African solutions to African problems” and proposed it be called the African Immediate Crisis Response Capacity (AICRC).
The committee sees AICRC as a military tool, a reservoir of 5 000 troops made up of operational modules in the form of 1 500 strong battle groups. These groups should be able to deploy rapidly and operate under a central command with an initial autonomy of 30 days.
“AICRC should enable the continent to provide an immediate response to crises in the short term, while allowing for a political solution to the crisis,” the committee’s report said.