NAIROBI, November 24 – Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula on Monday urged the Eastern Africa Standby Brigade (EASBRIG) to consider sending troops to protect critical trade routes in the Indian Ocean to curb increased cases of piracy once it becomes fully operational.,
Mr Wetangula who spoke on the sidelines of the force’s command post launch in Nairobi said EASBRIG should also send its troops to the lawless Somalia and other East African nations whenever need arises.
“What we are trying do now is create a situation where Africa will not be going to knock on every door all over the world asking for support. Indeed we can, because a country like Kenya has been sending peace keeping troops all over the world,” he said.
EASBRIG as currently constituted cannot deploy troops to any part of the region because its forces are still undergoing training on peace keeping.
Mr Wetangula singled out piracy and the instability in Somalia as a major problem facing member countries but assured that they could be tackled conclusively once the force starts its operations.
“I am urging EASBRIG to include piracy in its operational framework because it is one of the major challenges we are facing. It will play a key role once it adapts maritime capabilities to protect trade routes against piracy,” he added.
EASBRIG Commander Brig Gen Osman Nour Soubagale said the force was up to the challenge and would take up all the tasks once it is ready in 2010.
He said the AU had developed an African common defence and security policy in 2004 that would pave the way towards the full establishment of an African Stand-by Force capable for rapid deployment by 2010.
“The first task was the establishment and operationalisation of the regional standby force that would also include the non-military component of the police and civilians,” he said.
According to Brig Gen Soubagale, the AU timeline for full African standby force operationalisation includes conducting field training exercises in 2009 that will include the lower cadres of the soldiers, police and civilians of lower rank.
In its initial stages, EASBRIG is expected to have an initial brigade military component of about 6,000 with an additional 2,000 to 3,000 drawn from the non-military component. The target group to be exercised will comprise 110 EASBRIG force leaders.
They will include 65 brigade headquarters military staff, 20 battalion command staff with the rest comprising police civilians.
The regional brigade brings together 13 Eastern Africa countries and is part of the African Standby Force also includes standby brigades from four other regions of the continent, namely Southern, Northern, Western and Central Africa.
Currently, ESBRIG member states include Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and Tanzania. Others are the Comoros, Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius.
Tanzania and Madagascar have however, opted to contribute their forces to the Southern Region.
In Central Africa, Burundi has opted to join the Eastern Africa region.