The African Standby Force (ASF) is a structure to pool and integrate the military capacities of the Member States of the African Union, to enable the fifty-four Member States to defend themselves against any form of external aggression. After the recent conflict in Somalia and Mali, it has become a matter of urgency for the African Union to constitute this Force which is scheduled to be created in 2015. The African Standby Force must provide a credible alternative to the defence
The African Standby Force (ASF) is a structure to pool and integrate the military capacities of the Member States of the African Union, to enable the fifty-four Member States to defend themselves against any form of external aggression. After the recent conflict in Somalia and Mali, it has become a matter of urgency for the African Union to constitute this Force which is scheduled to be created in 2015. The African Standby Force must provide a credible alternative to the defence agreements concluded between some African countries and certain foreign powers, including France. The establishment of the African Standby Force is an important project, supported by the African Union (AU), the regional economic communities (REC) and their various partners in defence, including the European Union and some Western nations.
A number of problems emerge when it comes to establishing this African force including the credibility of the African Union as a guarantee of security on the African continent and the establishment of military, logistical and financial capacities of the African Standby Force, taking into account the budgetary problems facing most African countries. Nevertheless, the African leaders have expressed their willingness to constitute an African force, although without always considering the question of interoperability of equipment and the command procedures which are to lead to the creation of the regional brigades of the African Standby Force. That said, at their various meetings, the African leaders are making progress in drafting the roadmap of the African Standby Force. The draft of the ASF is established pursuant to the creation of the African Union in July 2002 and the adoption of the protocol relating to the creation of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) which came into force on 26 December 2003.
What is the roadmap of this African Standby Force? What can the majority of the African countries which are threatened with many dangers such as terrorism, maritime piracy, drug trafficking and a number of internal political conflicts which may lead to military conflicts expect from it? In addition to the problems of organisation and of military troop capacities, these are questions which require some strategic consideration prior to the constitution of the African Standby Force.
In assessing the increasing importance of the African Standby Force, the specification sheet for the project recalls first of all the attempts to create a Pan-African force before the African Union. The failure of these different projects forced the States, at the second extraordinary session of the African Union Conference of 27 and 28 February 2004, to bring together all the security-related issues in a joint non-aggression and defence pact signed in February 2004. The African Standby Force thereby became an element of a much broader project, the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). In the long run, the African Standby Force must enable the African Union to take ownership of peacekeeping and security in Africa, provided that the different Member States take up the challenges and identify what is at stake, remaining conscious of the bases of international cooperation.
The establishment of the African Standby Force is an ambitious project supported by the African Union, the RECs and the various international community partners in defence. The African States gave lengthy consideration to the proposed pooling of their military capacities in the 1950s and at the time of the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in May 1963. There was dissension between the different Heads of State, some of them fearing the loss of their political sovereignty. In 1958, Kwame Nkrumah, the President of Ghana, suggested the creation of an African High Command and an African Legion. Creating such structures would have helped to defend the newly independent States against outside aggression. The High Command would have been an alternative to the defence pacts and agreements concluded between the African countries and the foreign powers. It was a failure, since most of the member countries of the OAU preferred to prioritise strengthening political unity rather than lose their sovereignty in the matter of defence.
The traditional opposition between the Brazzaville group (Congo Brazzaville, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Madagascar, Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Liberia and Togo), still known as the Monrovia group, and the Casablanca group (Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Libya and Morocco) at the institutional level when the OAU was created, still prevails on the question of defence. The Casablanca group was in favour of the creation of an African defence force dominated by a high command (High Command of Nkrumah). The Monrovia group took the view that the project was too ambitious. Despite the opposition between the two groups, it can be seen that there was a gradual awareness by the States of the need for a unified military structure, which led in 1963 to the establishment of a Defence Commission which provided for the creation of four Joint Services Regional Head-Quarters to ensure the defence of the regions of the North, the East, the West and the Centre. Southern Africa was excluded from this configuration because at that time the region was still under colonial rule. The African Standby Force, to be created later, essentially follows the path of the principles of organisation and structures laid down by the Commission of 1963.
Why an African Standby Force? An instinct for analysis helps us to understand the clear desire of the African States to possess a military tool capable of ensuring their security. Since the beginning of the achievement of independence by the African countries, we have been seeing a rise in new threats, such as terrorism, land and sea piracy or regional political conflicts. The international community is showing signs of fatigue when it comes to intervening in Africa to restore peace. A number of fairly recent conflicts (Chad in 1981-82, Mali in 2012 and to some extent the Rwandan genocide in 1994) could not be resolved by the States concerned. The idea of a Pan-African army which was launched in the 1960s by Nkrumah became a subject of debate in the 2000s under the recommendations of Gaddafi, at the time President of Libya. The year 2000 is a key year because consideration of new African institutions and the creation of an African Standby Force became the key elements in a broader project of equipping Africa with a peace and security architecture.
The concept of a peace and security architecture is based on a system of collective security at two levels: first, the African Union and the RECs; second, the Peace and Security Council, a political organ of the AU which operates in accordance with Chapter 8 of the Charter of the United Nations.
The protocol on the creation of the African Union Peace and Security Council, adopted in July 2002 and which came into force in December 2003, confers wide-ranging powers on the Peace and Security Council for conflict prevention, management and resolution. The African Standby Force is an element of the peace and security architecture in Africa which plays an important role in operations providing support for peace. According to the roadmap for the implementation of the African Standby Force (XP AURECS/ASF/4(I), Addis Ababa, March 2005), six plans are envisaged to describe the missions of the ASF and the creation of the different operational regional brigades:
— Military aid for political missions;
— Continental observation mission deployed at the same time as the UN mission;
— Observation mission without UN support;
— Deployment of a peacekeeping force and preventive deployment missions;
— Robust peacekeeping force;
— Emergency intervention in the event of a slow response by the international community in the case of genocide, for example.
The African Standby Force being only the armed wing of the Peace and Security Committee of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, it falls to the latter to make the policy decision for its deployment.
At the logistical level, the African Standby Force has a continental logistical base situated at Douala and at the “purely” operational level five brigades have been created and are divided on the basis of a geographical breakdown which covers the different regional economic communities. They are: ECOBRIG (ECOWAS brigade, Economic Community of West African States); FOMAC (CEEAC brigade, Economic Community of the Central African States); SADCBRIG (SADC brigade, Southern African Development Community); EASBRIG (IGAD brigade, Intergovernmental Authority on Development); NASBRIG (AMU brigade, Arab Maghreb Union).
On paper, the missions, objectives and operational organs of the ASF are relatively clear; nevertheless a number of problems have emerged such as the linkage between the different regions in the case of conflict. How does the link between civil and military decisions work? In addition to the problems of financing which are bound to appear, other challenges loom on the horizon such as the training of senior civilian and military officials.
Overall, the structuring of the African Standby Force into brigades gives credibility to the hypothesis of regionalisation of this force. The regionalisation of peace and security through brigades helps to transfer military responsibilities to the regional actors which in turn helps to ensure that the States are not stripped of too much of their sovereignty. Beyond the necessary military aspect, regionalisation seems like a plan for continental sovereignty that can give Africa a role as a major actor in international life. By equipping itself with a defence instrument, Africa will gain credibility at a time when various investors are betting on future growth rates. Economic affairs coupled with instability or insecurity is not a good combination. By creating the African Standby Force, the African Heads of State are establishing the political conditions for a common defence and for making investments secure.
Nevertheless, a number of challenges await this African Standby Force scheduled to be created in 2015.
The African Standby Force is a major project for the African countries. There are a number of challenges to be met at the political and institutional levels, as well as with respect to the schedule of actual operation of the brigades.
The first challenge is of a financial nature. The constitution of a force of this kind necessitates standardisation in terms of troops, equipment, organisation and strategic planning. These all present challenges for the African countries since most of them have severe budget and finance constraints. How will the contribution of each State be determined in the matter of financing and provision of troops for the African Standby Force? The African countries are still paradoxically largely attached to the bilateral relations that they maintain with the foreign powers. How are they going to manage their specific relations with those powers and their membership of an African force that symbolises the union of Africa in regard to defence? The creation of the African Standby Force is a seductive proposition, but on the ground problems are likely to appear in the event of conflicts resulting from suspicions raised by populations about the political legitimacy of their States. What will the African Standby Force do if it is called upon by a serving President who sincerely believes that his authority is being challenged for the wrong reasons by the opposition which might, for example, be tempted to take power by force? This is not simply hypothetical but a current reality in some African countries.
There are as many stakes as challenges, for the African Standby Force needs to mobilise the attention of the international community and the bilateral partners to help it build its capacities for intervention and to make concrete choices to prevent any confusion about the nature of the conflicts to be resolved. The European Union is called upon to play an important part in developing the standby force. It is already doing so at a lower level in the context of MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali) where it is participating in the training of Malian troops. It is present in a very concrete context, to train troops, to which must be added the training of high level African civilians and soldiers capable of working in every chain of command of the African Standby Force.
The African Standby Force must be the subject of publicity in all the RECs, which, through popular education, will help to foster awareness among the States and their populations about this formidable tool intended for the protection of the territories in the event of foreign aggression. The creation of an African Standby Force must not cause the financial contributions and the participation of the international community to decrease if there is an attack on an African country. ASF recognises the existence of the international community and the validity of the United Nations interventions in various scenarios. The African Standby Force must be an example of collective conduct for peace in Africa; it is an opportunity for Africa and the different members of the African Union to ensure their economic development once and for all. In fact, without collective security, there can be no sustainable economic development.
The institutionalisation of the African Standby Force in the African Peace and Security Architecture makes it possible to reinforce African unity and to show the willingness of the African States to take up the issue of the organisation of their own defence. On top of its primary mission to intervene to combat external aggression against African States, the African Standby Force has another mission which is that of making the continent appear credible in peacekeeping and security in Africa and for the rest of the world.
Paul Chico and Laure Henicz, La FAA : un outil adapté aux enjeux africains, Paris, École militaire, 26-27 April 2012
Jean Combacau and Serge Sur, Droit international public, 8th edition, Paris, Monchrestien, 2008
Alain-Roger Edou Mvelle, “La force africaine en attente à l’ère de la responsabilité de protéger,” Défense nationale, no. 221
Benedikt F. Franke, “Competing Regionalism in Africa and the Continent’s Emerging Security Architecture,” Africa Studies Quarterly, vol. 9, issue 3, 2007
Amandine Gnanguenon, Le processus de mise en œuvre de la Force africaine en attente, Institut de recherche stratégique de l’École militaire (IRSEREM), 11 September 2012
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