Four East African Community (EAC) member states Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, as well as their northern neighbour Ethiopia, have committed nearly the entire 5, 000 troops that will constitute the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF), which brings together 10 regional countries.
The countries pledged three motorised battalions, a mechanised battalion and a light infantry battalion between themselves.
Burundi contributed a light infantry battalion of 850 officers and men, 15 military observers starting from the rank of Major upwards, 140 Individual Police Officers (IPOs), and 36 civilians; while Ethiopia committed one motorized battalion (comprised of military trucks, armored personnel carriers, among other logistics, for mobility purposes), a signal or communication troop, a combat engineer company; 15 military observers, once Formed up Police Unit (FPU), 120 IPOs and 40 civilians.
On its part, Kenya committed to providing a communications squadron, one mechanized battalion (including tank and armored personnel carriers), one level two hospital, 15 military observers, one FPU, 100 IPOs, and 40 civilians.
Rwanda, the current chair of the regional grouping, offered to provide one motorized battalion, one squadron of special forces, one level 2 hospital, 15 military observers, one FPU, 100 IPs, and 47 civilians; while Uganda committed one signal/communications troop, one motorized battalion, one tank squadron (company), an artillery troop, a troop of command engineers, 15 military observers, one FPU, 60 IPOs and 40 civilians.
Comoros, Djibouti, Seychelles and Somalia all contributed personnel and equipment while Sudan pledged to make their commitments known later in the year.
These commitments were sealed through a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the respective Defence ministers in a meeting that ended in Kigali yesterday.
"This amounts to a very important step, it is an unprecedented achievement in the African continent," Rwanda's Defence and Military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita, told Saturday Times.
"We now have the most important components (of the force in place). We have the political will, the military personnel and logistics as well as the legal framework," he said, adding that the next front was to mobilise the necessary funds to get the force ready for combat in crisis areas in the region.
It was agreed that each member state would take care of their respective units and be in position to deploy within the short notice of 14 days, as well as foot the bill for at least 90 days during operations.
But the Defence chiefs also agreed to set up a Peace Fund and mobilise partners such as the African Union, the United Nations, among others, to contribute towards the basket fund, which would also receive contributions from member states.
"The idea is for the Fund to complement the efforts of member countries," Nzabamwita said, adding that it was agreed that a donor conference is expected to be held in March 2015 to help mobilise international support towards the Fund.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, Rwanda's Defence minister James Kabarebe, expressed his satisfaction and urged member states to follow through on their commitments.
"It demands a lot of dedication and commitment of course, to fulfill our promise of operationalising our force."
In June, African Heads of State meeting in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea had urged EASF to fast-track the operationalisation of the Force as part of efforts to quell conflicts on the continent and spur peace and growth.
Following yesterday's resolutions, officials are now optimistic that the Force will be ready for deployment come December. Prior to that, a Command Post exercise is scheduled to take place in Ethiopia in November.
The ministers also agreed to reconvene in October in Victoria, Seychelles, in an extra-ordinary policy organs meeting to finalise preparations for the impending full EASF operational capability.
The EASF Coordination Mechanism (EASFCOM), located in Nairobi, serves as the Secretariat for policy organs, structures and activities. The Planning Element (PLANELM), also located in Nairobi, serves as a multi-national and multidimensional full time planning headquarters for EASF within the framework of the African Standby Force.Command headquarters are based in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia will also provide the Chief of Staff, while Burundi's Brig. Gen. Domitien Kabisa is the current Force Commander. He will serve a three-year term that started on March 23.
Other member countries will hold different positions on rotational basis.
On June 26, regional Heads of State decided that the full operationalisation of the EASF must be ready this year, instead of December 2015, as earlier proposed in an AU roadmap.
The leaders seek a well-equipped standby force to tackle regional security challenges which Rwanda's Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba earlier described as "diverse in nature" and continuously evolving.
"Intra-State conflicts, asymmetrical threats mainly caused by negative forces that include FDLR, Al Shabab, LRA, ADF-NALU and terrorism, among others, impede peace that our people deserve and an obstacle to our countries' development," Minister Kabarebe said. "Insecurity in one country affects all of us. Our collective action under EASF is therefore essential".
Initiated in 2004, EASF is expected to be part of the African peace and security architecture. Member states' parliaments are now expected to start an approval process of the new Force.