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African Standby Force

A skeptic takes stock

by Alexandra Janda
The African Union (AU) is making slow progress in creating its continental peacekeeping force. According to a recent study published by the German think tank SWP, the plan makes sense; but it is being thwarted by underfunding, conceptual shortcomings and a lack of political will.

In the long run, the AU wants to solve crises on the African continent on its own. The need to be capable of interventions has become evident, at very least since the genocide in Rwanda.

The first step towards efficient crisis management was taken in 2002 by establishing the AU. For its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the principle of sovereignty took precedence over any other concern. That stance, however, was patently inadequate for addressing the security needs of a continent plagued by civil wars.

The AU’s mandate goes beyond the one of its forerunner. This institution is authorised to intervene militarily to prevent “crimes against humanity”, war crimes and genocide within member states’ borders. Though the principle of non-intervention is still proclaimed in the AU founding charter, it can be set aside in certain circumstances.

To fulfil the mandate in practice, the AU began implementing a joint defence and security policy as early as 2002. According to the official schedule, an effective African Standby Force (ASF) should be in place by 2010, capable of carrying out UN peacekeeping missions without outside help. In a recently published study for the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Frigate Captain Wolf Kinzel applauds the goal, but doubts it will be met on time.

The AU has divided the continent into five regions: Northern, Eastern, Western, Central and Southern Africa. Each region is to have its own ASF brigades with headquarters, logistics, infantry, helicopters and anything else it needs to carry out various tasks – from conventional peacekeeping to the extreme case of robust military intervention to prevent genocide.

The pace of implementation differs widely from one region to another. Kinzel doubts that any region will be ready for robust military interventions by 2010, but he reckons that Eastern, Western and Southern Africa will have the capacity to do peacekeeping by then. Thanks to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Kinzel says, progress in Western Africa is more marked than elsewhere. Other regions, however, are said to lack supranational organisations with legal authority; and joint planning is often impeded by some countries’ membership in overlapping regional organisations.

Kinzel considers the situation in Northern Africa particularly troublesome. In contrast to poor Central Africa, he argues, the main stumbling block in Northern Africa is not lack of money, but of political will. North African countries have impressive military forces, but they are embroiled in conflicts with one another. Kinzel sees similar problems in East Africa too. Regional cooperation not only fails often due to language barriers, he points out, but also because of internal conflicts smouldering in certain countries. Moreover, rivalry has been triggered by marked differences between various countries’ armed forces.

According to the SWP study, there is a second reason for the AU only making slow progress in establishing the ASF: chronic underfunding. This was the reason for delays in pay reaching AU-mission soldiers in Sudan. This mission, moreover, was initially equipped as a mere observer mission, but soon after supposed to meet the requirements of multidimensional peacekeeping.

Many contributors to the AU are in arrears; and the young organisation, according to Kinzel, needs start-up funds to train staff, set up basic institutions and procure resources. All summed up, the AU depends on foreign donors such as the EU.

As long as the AU lacks operational ASF troops, EU and UN soldiers will continue to be needed. Accordingly, the AU mission in Sudan was transformed into a UN/AU hybrid mission; and it is still fraught with difficulties (E+Z/D+C 5/2008, p. 212f). In view of the cost of such missions, Kinzel seems to suggest that donors might actually be better off investing more in the development of efficient crisis-management by the AU.

(Alexandra Janda)