Photo: Stuart Price/UN
How much longer will the African Standby Force (ASF) simply continue to ‘stand by’ while France and others deal with Africa’s crises?
As African leaders prepare for their 22nd Assembly of Heads of State of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa next week, questions around the implementation of the ASF have become more urgent than ever.
French military intervention in Mali in January 2013 and again in the Central African Republic (CAR) later last year have pushed this issue to the top of the agenda.
Plans for an African military force have been around for many years. In fact, as far back as the founding of the Organisation for African Unity in 1963, former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah already spoke about ‘a common defence system with an African high command.’
On 25 May 2013 at the 50th Anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity/African Union, South African President Jacob Zumareminded colleagues that ‘a free and self-sustaining Africa will be a pipe dream if we remain beholden to external sources.’
Judging from what’s happened on the continent over the last couple of months, it is evident that the AU should urgently conduct a strategic review of all aspects of AU peace operations and of the ASF operational strategy. This is imperative if the AU wants to meet the deadline for the full implementation of the ASF by 2015.
Equally crucial will be a commitment by big powers on the continent to contribute in accordance with their capabilities in peacekeeping missions, and also to assist with airlift capability.
Africa was indeed neither ready nor equipped to do without external help in many crises in the last number of years – but that doesn’t mean Africans are not being deployed in conflict zones across the continent on a massive scale.
To the contrary; in the last decade, ten AU and Regional Missions were deployed. During this period we saw a steady increase in contributing to UN peacekeeping, from about 10 000 in 2003 to 35 000 in 2013. This implies that more than 75 000 African peacekeepers participated in UN and African peace operations during 2013.
The number of the planned ASF of about 25 000 troops (five regional standby forces of 5 000 soldiers each) has therefore already been achieved.
What’s more, African soldiers are paying a heavy price for this deployment. Over 3 000 African soldiers have, for example, been killed in Somalia as part of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Unofficial estimates are that this figure might be much higher.
Plans are also afoot to create an African Capacity for Immediate Responses to Crises (ACIRC), with a strong mandate to intervene in crises at short notice.
During a meeting in Addis Ababa on 14 January, the AU Specialised Technical Committee on Defence, Safety and Security (STCDSS) recommended that the ACIRC be ‘captured as a phase in the implementation roadmap and operationalisation of the ASF’, which already includes a Rapid Deployment Capability.
What, then, are the challenges and gaps to be addressed by the AU to ensure that the ASF will be fully operational by 2015?