, ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, May 27 – The African Union said Monday it will set up an emergency military force to rapidly quell conflict on the continent, amid frustration that a planned peacekeeping force was still not operational after a decade.
“Almost all countries have agreed that we will have rapid response capability in Africa,” AU chairman and Ethiopian President Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters at the close of a two-day AU summit.
The AU’s “African Standby Brigade” to intervene in sudden crises – a proposed force of 32,500 troops and civilians drawn from five regions of the continent – has made little headway since preparations for it started a decade ago.
Only two of five regional sections are close to becoming operational.
“This is meant as an interim measure pending the full operationalisation of the African standby force,” AU security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters at the pan-African bloc’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.
“In the meantime, crises, unconstitutional changes of government, massive violations of human rights are likely to happen here and there, so from a responsible point of view, we say we cannot wait until we get a perfect tool to be used.”
South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia have pledged troops to the proposed interim force, Lamamra said. Funding and troop contributions will come from member states on a voluntary basis.
The AU was criticised for not responding fast enough 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.
This led to the rapid collapse of one Africa’s more stable democracies, prompting a French military intervention to oust the extremists in January.
“Africa could have done better, could have moved faster and could have perhaps made some significant effort so that the French contribution would not have been indispensable,” Lamamra added.
“It’s quite unfortunate that 50 years after our independence our security is so much dependent on a foreign partner.”
The AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC), the bloc’s body for tackling conflict, remains hampered by financial constraints, with military missions largely funded by western donors.
However, the AU’s force in Somalia, where 17,700 AU troops from five nations are fighting to claw back territory from Al-Qaeda linked Shabab insurgents from the government, has made impressive achievements.
But this success is not without cost.
One senior UN official recently estimated as many as 3,000 African troops had been killed in Somalia since 2007, similar to the numbers of UN peacekeepers killed worldwide since 1948.
Although funding for that mission comes mainly from Western backers, its role in Somalia shows the potential for an AU force.
The commitment of African nations to peacekeeping roles is clear: the peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s war-torn western Darfur region is a hybrid AU-UN force, while Mali now has a — belatedly deployed — African-led international support mission.
Five of the top ten contributors of soldiers and police officers to UN missions are African.