The Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF) is on course to be operational by December, security chiefs from the greater eastern African region meeting in Kigali said yesterday.
The meeting is a follow-up to commitments made by regional Heads of State and Government during their June meeting in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, relating to having the EASF ready this year.
Malabo's third extraordinary meeting of the EASF Assembly, chaired by President Paul Kagame, backed the creation of a well-equipped standby force to tackle regional security challenges.
"These challenges are diverse in nature and they keep evolving. This must be addressed and responded to with effective measures," Rwanda's Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, said while opening the 17th ordinary session of regional chiefs of defence staffs and police.
"We are duty-bound to ensure peace and security of our region, which is the key foundation of the prosperity and development of our nations," Gen. Nyamvumba said.
The DR Congo-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia are one of the regional main security challenges.
Also of concern is the al-Shabaab, a jihadist group based in Somalia - which has pledged allegiance to the militant Islamist organisation al-Qaeda.
Rwanda currently chairs the Council of Ministers of Defence and Security of Eastern Africa and the Committee of Eastern Africa of Chiefs of Defence Staff.
The security chiefs are considering specifics such as individual countries' troop and personnel contribution, expected to be announced today after defence ministers have looked at modalities designed by security experts.
Nyamvumba said the Force will be in position to respond in a convincing way to the current and emerging security challenges in the sub-region.
The idea of a regional force was conceived in 2004 with the mandate to enhance peace and security in the region.
The EASF draws its membership from 10 countries, including Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
It is expected to be part of the African peace and security architecture.
The EASF, according to a roadmap earlier drawn by the AU, was supposed to be operational in December 2015, but regional countries resolved to expedite the process in view of current security challenges.
Structure of EASF:
Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita, the military and defence spokesperson, said the ongoing Kigali meeting is expected to come up with a final structure of EASF following final force pledges.
All countries would agree on how many troops, equipment and civilian personnel they will be able to contribute.
Civilians and Police, too, are to be on board. This is why, for the first time, the meetings are attended by Police chiefs from the 10 states.
Brig. Nzabamwita said there is no ceiling on the number of required troops but noted that what is needed is a force that would deploy in the shortest time possible say in not more than two weeks.
The EASF will not be based in one particular country. Every country will host and sustain its own contingent but deploy it - quickly - whenever it is required.
A country committing a battalion to the EASF would equip and finance it.
The troops will often meet in any member country for training.
National parliaments will first approve the arrangement in line with the agreements signed by the Heads of State and Government. During the Malabo meeting, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi each pledged a battalion.
"We gave ourselves a roadmap so that after this meeting, a resolution will be drawn such that by November, all 10 national parliaments should have ratified these agreements," Brig. Nzabamwita said.
THE NEED FOR REGIONAL SECURITY:
For the past 10 years, the region has been preparing a multi-dimensional force by building capacity in the military, police and civilian components to address common security challenges.
At the recent US-Africa Summit, President Barack Obama committed to support the African Union's efforts to strengthen its peacekeeping institutions.
He announced the US would launch a new African peacekeeping rapid response partnership that quickly deploys peacekeepers in support of the UN or AU missions.