Harare — THE Sadc Peacekeeping Brigade was launched at City Airport, a military airbase on the outskirts of Lusaka, last week at a colourful ceremony witnessed by the regional trading bloc's 14 heads of state and government, including President Mugabe, marking a milestone in Africa's quest to take charge of its peace and security.
At its launch, the force comprised 564 soldiers from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe was represented by a platoon of about 40 troops comprising members of the Zimbabwe National Army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police. Three countries - the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritius and Madagascar - did not send troops for the launch parade but are expected to join the force.
The troops paraded in front of the 14 heads and were reviewed by incoming chairman Mr Levy Mwanawasa as the band played the Sadc and Zambian national anthems, while Zambian airforce jets flew past.
After that, outgoing chairperson of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, Tanzanian President Mr Jakaya Kikwete, handed over the chairmanship of the organ to Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, as Sadc heads of state and government released blue and white balloons into the air, symbolising peace.
The Sadc force will operate under the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security. It was constituted under the African Union protocol on peace and security, which requires all regional economic communities to have standby peacekeeping forces.
It becomes the second regional standby peacekeeping force on the continent, after Ecomog, the standby force of the Economic Community of West African States. The Sadc force will have its planning elements at the Sadc Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana, as its only permanent structure. It will receive guidance from the Sadc committee of chiefs of defence staff and the committee of police chiefs.
It will be part and parcel of the African Standby Force and is designed in such a way that its troops or personnel would remain domiciled within their countries of origin on an "on-call" level of alert.
A memorandum of understanding was concluded among the participating nations to provide a sound legal basis for their co-operation in the establishment and maintenance of the force. Training of the brigade at all levels would remain a key priority for Sadc to achieve the principle of uniformity and be able to operate together its systems and equipment.
The work already done by the Inter-State Defence and Security Committee in this area would serve as a sound basis for a way forward.