The vision of achieving a united, peaceful and prosperous Africa entered a new phase on Monday when a large multi-country military exercise kicked off.
The Amani Africa II field training exercise with more than 5,400 troops, police and civilians participating started at the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) in Northern Cape.
The exercise finishes November 5 and is conducted by the African Union (AU) with the intent of evaluating the state of readiness of the African Standby Force (ASF) and its Rapid Deployment Capability (RDC) government news agency SAnews reports.
The troops are being drilled to be part of the new 25,000-strong multi-national force, which will be mandated to intervene in African countries rocked by genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. It is expected to be fully operational by early 2016.
The force will be made up of five brigades formed by Africa’s economic groupings including the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), East African Community (EAC), North African Regional Capability (NARC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Its logistics headquarters will be located in the Cameroon city of Douala after an agreement was signed to that effect last week.
For the exercise, SADC has contributed 1,220 personnel. Volunteering nations constituting the Africa Capacity for Immediate Response Crises (ACIRC) contributed 2,116 personnel said Zimbabwean Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi.
Sekeramayi said ECCAS contributed 106 personnel; ECOWAS contributed 60 while NARC sent staff officers due to logistical challenges.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui said the day marked a turning point in the collective history of promoting peace, stability and security on the continent while also crystallising co-operation between the AU and regional economic communities.
“Through the Amani Africa exercise we are contributing to the realisation of the collective aspirations of the founding mothers and fathers of the African Union.
“This is an opportunity for us to test and adapt the ASF and RDC in order to cope with the contemporary nature of security threats we face and teach us how best we can align mechanisms to effectively deal with security threats.”
The exercise, Chergui said, also provides an opportunity to find African solutions to African problems through the possibility of employing the ASF and RDC as tools of prevention and response to crisis situations on the continent.
Africa’s evolving security challenges have further inspired the urgency for the operational readiness of the ASF and RDC the agency reported.
Although the continent has witnessed a steady decline in the number of armed conflicts and intra-state conflicts, transnational security threats such as terrorist attacks from militant groups like Boko Haram have persisted in some parts of the continent.
But for the ASF and RDC to be fully operational, Chergui said there was a need for the AU and regions to conclude all outstanding legal arrangements.
He envisaged the memorandum of understanding to be signed between the AU and RECs will clearly stipulate the terms of implementation and other operational matters between regions in responding to crises across the continent.
Funding the force
Chergui said he hoped that through multi-donor resourcing systems the continent would generate “flexible, predictable and sustainable” funding for ASF and RDC operations.
The AU has indicated at least $1 billion is needed to finance the establishment of the ASF.
Already more than 70% of the AU’s budget is donor funded and analysts have warned the reliance on donor funds would always put limitations on operations.
Chergui said it was high time AU member states commit themselves to funding the force.
“The AU is hopeful the recent summit decision to increase member states’ contributions from 2016, with the location of 25% of this contribution towards peace support operations, will be implemented.”
In her welcoming address, South African Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africa was honoured to host the exercise on behalf of SADC.
“This is as an important milestone in our endeavour to create a tool that will be at our disposal should we require it to intervene to quell violence against our people in the continent.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africa was committed to the promotion of peace, stability, growth, development, democracy and good governance across the region and continent.
“We are firmly committed to the promotion of collective security in our region and continent as a whole, hence we are all part of a continental collective to ensure peace and stability.”
Before the official opening of the exercise, the mood was jovial as troops united in song and marched while holding their national flags up high in the scorching summer heat.
Following the conclusion of the exercise, Sekeramayi said a report will be submitted to the extraordinary meeting of the AU Specialised Technical Committee on Defence, Safety and Security in January 2016.
The committee will then make recommendations to the AU Summit on the state of readiness and how to constantly enhance the ASD and RDC to effectively address the prevailing nature of security threats in the continent.