Security: A quick reaction force moulded by Africa's circumstances

Africa’s crises are both honing and stalling the formation of the African Standby Force (ASF) of the African Union (AU) - a quick reaction force that could eventually number about 30,000 troops to be deployed in a range of scenarios, from peacekeeping to direct military intervention.

Originally intended to become operational in 2010, the deadline for the ASF has been reset for 2015; but despite the delay, the ASF is becoming increasingly woven into the operating procedures of current AU security operations.

The ASF “is very much a work in progress”, African Union Commissioner of Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra told IRIN, but “at the political level there is a strong support for it under the guiding principle of bringing about African solutions to African problems.”

Once up and running, the ASF will be based on five regional blocs each supplying about 5,000 troops: the Southern African Development Community (SADC) force (SADCBRIG), the Eastern Africa Standby force (EASBRIG), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) force (ECOBRIG), the North African Regional Capability (NARC), and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) force (ECCASBRIG), also known as the Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC).

The regional forces are not a standing army like national forces. As the AU Peace and Security Council protocol of the ASF stipulates, they “shall be composed of standby multidisciplinary contingents with civilian and military components in their countries of origin and ready for rapid deployment at appropriate notice.”

The ASF is the legacy and logic of the Constitutive Act of the AU adopted in 2000, the successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). In a complete break from the OAU, which had advocated non-interference in member states, the Act gave the AU both the right to intervene in a crisis, and an obligation to do so “in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”.

Lamamra said the ASF “Implies the immediate availability of the instruments [of intervention and prevention] to be translated into concrete deeds... when they relate to some kind of enforcing decisions of the legitimate organs of the African Union, such as cases of unconstitutional changes of government… or armed rebellion, such as the terrorist situation in northern Mali.”

''I believe the learning curve for the standby force is AMISOM. We have to deliver on the lessons learned in the AMISOM process''
The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was held up as an example of what the ASF could be. “I believe the learning curve for the standby force is AMISOM. We have to deliver on the lessons learned in the AMISOM process - five years of effective presence on the ground under quite challenging circumstances,” Lamamra said.

“The lesson of AMISOM is that Africans should be ready to make sacrifices, and Uganda has wonderfully shown that they are ready to make sacrifices for the common good of Africa.” Uganda has supplied most of the AU troops supporting the Somali government against jihadist rebels.

The AU has deployed 14 staff officers to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, “in the first ever deployment of ASF elements,” El Gassim Wane, AU Commission director of peace and security, told IRIN.


A field exercise - Amani II, following the Amani I mapping exercise in 2010 - is being planned for 2014 and three of the five brigades are expected to take participate.

Article 4 (h)

Lamamra was confident that by 2015 all of the ASF’s regional brigades - with the probable exception of NARC, owing to the disruptions of the Arab Spring - would be operational and able to fulfil all the criteria of AU’s Article 4 (h), which influenced the international development of the UN Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine.

There are six scenarios in Article 4 (h). The lowest rung is the attachment of a regional military advisor to a political mission; then an AU regional observer deployed within a UN mission; followed by a stand-alone AU regional observer mission; and deployment of a regional peacekeeping force under the auspices of a Chapter VI mandate, all within a timeframe of 30 days or less. Scenario five is a multidimensional AU peacekeeping force deployed within 90 days, and scenario six relates to “grave circumstances”, such as genocide, and deployment within 14 days.

Lamamra said the timeline of 14 days for level-six intervention should be reassessed to about seven days. “For instance, resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council was adopted on 17 March and the actual military operation started on 19th March - 14 days would have been too much in terms of protecting civilians.”

In a 2010 paper, The Role and Place of the African Standby Force within the African Peace and Security Architecture, Solomon Dersso, a senior researcher at the Addis Ababa office of the Institute for Security Studies, a Pretoria-based think-tank, notes that “Article 4 (h) not only creates the legal basis for intervention but also imposes an obligation on the AU to intervene to prevent or stop the perpetration of such heinous international crimes anywhere on the continent.”

However, implementation of R2P rests with the Security Council, while the imposition of Article 4 (h) resides with the AU and does not require the Security Council’s blessing.

Scenario six of Article 4 (h) has yet to be used by the AU and Dersso told IRIN he “sincerely doubted” the article would be invoked in the short term against member states, as “it would deprive the AU of any leverage it has over a target government,” and the AU has already “shied away” from implementing the article in Darfur.

He expected the ASF to be close to being able to comply with Article 4 (h) level-five scenarios by 2015, but the development of regional forces was proceeding at different paces.

The two-speed progress of the regional brigades - in which ECOWAS and SADC are recognised as the furthest along the path - is not just a consequence of the two regional blocs housing the continent’s economic power houses of Nigeria and South Africa, AU Commission director of peace and security El Gassim Wane told IRIN.

''Intrinsically, in most of these situations what is needed is a political response, and there is a temptation that if you have a standby force to use it because you have a military capacity''
“ECOWAS and SADC have made tremendous progress, EAS Brigade too, while NARC in the north was lagging behind, but then started speeding up, but the Libyan crisis meant progress had to stop,” he said.

“Money may play a role, but money alone cannot explain that. ECOWAS and SADC focused early on conflict and security issues, so had a competitive advantage in the very beginning. Experience, length of involvement in peace and security issues, have certainly played a key role,” Wane said.

Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation, told IRIN the availability of a standby force could cloud judgment.

“Intrinsically, in most of these situations what is needed is a political response, and there is a temptation that if you have a standby force to use it because you have a military capacity… And my concern over something like Mali would be that the military option runs the danger of getting the AU into a Somalia-type situation, where the use of military force five or six years ago by the US and Ethiopia very seriously rebounded. But having said that - yes, in a situation where there is a need for some sort of peacekeeping deployment in the context of a political initiative, it makes sense.”

Alternatives to the ASF?

Analysts have questioned whether 30,000 troops would be sufficient to deal with the continent’s crises, and 2012 has illustrated that such concerns are valid. A range of crises this year erupted within the space of a few weeks, from the uneasy relationship between South Sudan and Sudan deteriorating into border skirmishing, to coup d’etats in Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

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Wane said the establishment of the ASF did not necessarily mean it would be the only security option at the AU’s disposal, and the four-country operation against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, (LRA) a rebel movement that started in northern Uganda, could be considered as a useful model for the future.

“It’s not an ASF operation per se, as ASF has its own processes, and it was not really conceived as an ASF operation - it was conceived as an ad hoc, very flexible arrangement to enhance effectiveness to deal with the LRA once and for all. It’s a very flexible and creative way of dealing with a specific security issue… Who knows? We may replicate it elsewhere, where there is a security problem,” he said.

The force ranged against the LRA - comprising soldiers from the Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan and Uganda - has fought against the LRA in past, but is set apart, as it operates under the aegis of the AU.

Abou Moussa, the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), based in Libreville, Gabon, told IRIN: “The specific nature of this deployment [against the LRA] is termed ‘authorised’ as compared to ‘mandated’.”

“Under authorised deployment, each country provides for the needs and requirements of their respective troops without the AU's contribution. This is extremely important, as this can be considered as their own contribution towards the determination to put an end to Kony's actions. It is very costly. However, the AU covers the needs of staff officers - some 30 of them posted to the various coordinating centres.”

The AU task force has three operational centres, located in Dungu, DRC, at Obo in CAR, and Nzara in South Sudan, with its headquarters in Yambio, South Sudan.

“The Regional Coordination Initiative [against the LRA] means more subtle changes in the way the operation is run, with representatives of all four countries involved in the command structure in Yambio,” which sidesteps the politically sensitive issue of the DRC’s refusal to host Ugandan forces on its soil, Ned Dalby, a central Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution NGO, told IRIN.

In July 2005, the International Criminal Court indicted Kony and four of his commanders, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen, Raska Lukwiya and Vincent Otti, for a variety of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Lukwiya and Otti have subsequently been killed, but the arrest warrants for the remaining three remain outstanding. The LRA has not been active in Uganda since 2006.

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