South African President Jacob Zuma has called for the creation of an African Standby Force (ASF) as a rapid deployment instrument that would go to places on the continent where conflicts erupt and violence flares.
He sees the creation of a rapid deployment unit as helping to create a stronger African Union (AU) that would be able to ensure the promotion of peace and stability on the continent.
The President, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force, said the need for an intervention brigade had become more crucial following conflicts in Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR), as well as continuing instability in the eastern part of the DRC.
In late march, Seleka rebels in the CAR killed 14 South African soldiers as they moved on the nation’s capital of Bangui and subsequently overthrew President Francois Bozize’s regime.
“It is crucial to build a stronger and well-resourced African Union to take forward the promotion of peace, security and the socioeconomic advancement of the continent,” Zuma said. “Part of the capacity needed by the AU is the establishment of the African Standby Force for rapid deployment in crisis areas without delays.”
Zuma’s call follows a report by the AU specialised defence technical committee indicating the rapid deployment capability (RDC) of its standby force was non-existent.
The committee met in Addis Ababa earlier this month to discuss the continental body’s response to the escalation of violence in Mali late last year that erupted into full-scale fighting and saw France deploy troops in an attempt to restore peace.
The report noted: “The Malian crisis highlighted the need to expedite operationalisation of the RDC and, more generally, to accelerate the establishment of the ASF”.
All told the AU defence technical committee is of the opinion the RDC is yet to be operational. Efforts to make the ASF and it RDC 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 standard to facilitate conflict prevention.
Immediate past US military Africa Command (Africom) commander, General Carter F Ham in March pointed out Mali as 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.”
Even more outspoken on the lack of any deployable capability to speedily deal with conflict situations was top South African defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman.
He is on record as saying: “The ‘Standby Force’, comprising five regional brigades, was intended to intervene promptly and quickly to prevent a troubled situation becoming a crisis, or at least to be on the scene quickly enough to hold the line until other forces can be deployed to deal with the situation decisively. It was not intended to ‘stand by’ and watch things unravel”.
Zuma was speaking after the signing of a number of co-operation agreements between Nigeria and South Africa at Tuynhuys in Cape Town following a meeting with his Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan. One of the nine agreements signed covers defence co-operation between the two countries, generally accepted as Africa’s economic powerhouses.
Zuma said that Jonathan was in agreement over the need for better military capacity. South Africa and Nigeria signed nine agreements and memoranda of understanding on Tuesday, paving the way for co-operation in the areas of defence, gas exploration and power generation.