Aware that they have failed to get a fully-fledged peacekeeping force up and running, African leaders are now plan a rapid-deployment emergency force, but analysts have questioned whether it can deliver.
The African Union’s “African Standby Brigade”, meant to intervene swiftly in regional crises, has made little headway since preparations for a proposed force of 32,500 troops and civilians drawn from the continent’s five regions started a decade ago.
Yet only two of five regional sections are close to becoming operational. A new emergency force announced this week is intended to bridge the gap pending the full coming into operation of that brigade, AU security chief Ramtane Lamamra said at the organisation’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.
South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia have pledged troops to the interim force. Funding and troop contributions will come from member states on a voluntary basis.
The AU has been criticised for not responding fast enough to the crisis in Mali, after soldiers seized power in a coup in March 2012, opening the way for Islamist rebels to take over the country’s north.
However, some analysts are hopeful. Solomon Ayele Dersso, senior researcher on conflict prevention at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, said the emergency force could work since the troops for it will be volunteered by member states with proven military capacity, instead of trying to include soldiers from every member state, as the full Standby Brigade proposes.
“One thing that’s different about the new force … is that it will be based on the principle of military capacity,” he told AFP.
He cited Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad and Kenya as states that have proven their military capacity over the past 18 months or so.
“It’s nice to say all member states are equal, but we live in an Orwellian world where some states are more equal than others… and not all are in a position to make a contribution to peace and security,” he said.
The force will be tasked with “carrying out operations of limited duration and objectives or to contribute to the creation of conducive conditions for the deployment of AU and/or UN peace operations of wider scope,” AU documents said.
Musambayi Katumanga, a political science professor at the University of Nairobi, said ACIRC will work as a limited measure to contain but not solve crises.
“As a short term reactive measure to a rapidly changing situation, in which you say, ‘Let’s try to do something about the situation, but not resolve it’…then you could say it makes a lot of sense – but this is where the story ends,” Katumanga said.
“The fact is that most states in Africa are not viable,” he said, arguing that most countries “are basically in the same situation as Mali, it is just a matter of time.”
Some observers argue that the AU has accomplished great things with its intervention force in Somalia, Amisom, whose 17,700 men from five nations are fighting to claw back territory from Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab insurgents.