9 January 2014

Africa: Why Is the African Union Still Failing Its People On Peace and Security?

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British involvement was also substantial, with more than £110 million a year being invested via the African Conflict Prevention Pool for nearly a decade.[1] Today the figure stands at £51.5 million [2] The Pool is a joint initiative, run by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and DFID.

But the force, with its 5 regional Standby Brigades, has failed to materialise. The concept has been a signal failure. Differences between African states run far too deep for them to be used in the continent's many crises. When Ivory Coast and Mali fell apart it was the old colonial power - France - that came to the rescue.

In November 2013 an official statement from the South African government took the route of least resistance: they announced that the force would be renamed.

The "African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises" (ACIRC), would be what was termed a "transitional arrangement" until the African Standby Force could be up and running. The Nigerian Guardian was more forthright. It reported that the Standby Brigades had made little progress since they were first dreamed up over a decade ago.

So why the failure? Africa is capable of running military operations, given sufficient outside financial and logistical support. The Peace and Security Council currently boasts two "Field Missions". One, in the Western Sahara, is so dormant it need not detain us. The other - in Somalia - is clearly active.

The 25,000 strong African Union Mission to Somalia - AMISOM - has driven al-Shabaab, out of the capital, Mogadishu. AMISOM now holds substantial areas of Somalia, but it is, in reality, run by its troop contributors.

So Uganda and Burundi call the shots in the capital, while Ethiopia runs its operations in the West and Kenya holds a strip of land in the far South. Although it nominally reports to the African Union, the organization has little control over what it can and cannot do.

Much the same can be said for Africa's regional peacekeeping forces - like the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA). This was established under a UN Security Council Resolution on 5th December 2013.

Troops from Gabon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, and Cameroon made up the force. But within weeks the largest contingent - from Chad - had intervened on the side of the mainly Muslim Seleka fighters. They clashed with Christians, who make up the majority of the population. The Chadians became part of the problem rather than the solution and had to be withdrawn.

The root of the problem lies with a failure of African leadership. When they held office Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa worked hand in glove on a range of issues.

For a time it seemed that the concept of an 'African Renaissance' might become a reality. But the moment faded. Today both Nigeria and South Africa are ruled by weak presidents, obsessed with domestic problems and incapable of giving the continent a sense of direction.

The African Standby Force has gone the way of so many other initiatives. While African leaders have plenty of funds to lavish on their cars, palaces and planes, they deprive their military of the resources they need to do the job.

I have witnessed troops being trained by United States Marines overjoyed to be given even small quantities of ammunition to practice live firing. Their own government refused to supply more than a handful of rounds; for fear that they would be used to stage a coup. This is all very depressing, but hardly surprising.

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