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AU's African Peacekeeping Comes Under Scrutiny - 2004-07-03

The African Union is expected to update member states on the creation of its pan-African peace and security force at the AU summit this coming week. Analysts have mixed views on whether the initiative will be a success.

When the African Union earlier this year announced plans to create an African Standby Force, analysts greeted the news with great enthusiasm.

Under the direction of the AU's 15-member Peace and Security Council, the 15,000-strong peacekeeping force would be deployed to prevent conflict, disarm and demobilize fighters, ensure that cease-fires are honored, distribute humanitarian assistance and perform other peace-building functions in troubled areas.

The AU has set 2010 as the target date for creating the force, using troops from five regional bases. Initially, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt are expected to provide the bulk of the troops.

At the time of the launch, the Burundi specialist at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, Jan Van Eck, said the AU's past peacekeeping experience bodes well for the new force.

He said the AU broke new ground by sending some 2,600 troops to Burundi last year to monitor a cease-fire between the government and the country's main rebel group.

"By going there while there's not peace yet, I think, was a completely new principle in international peacekeeping," he said. "We would not have been able to reach this stage of the peace process had it not been for the African [Union] mission."

Mr. Van Eck called the standby force an African solution to African problems, a view echoed by many who see the force as a step forward in Africa's effort to take control over developments on the continent.

The spokesman for the Ugandan army, Major Shaban Bantariza, says it is easier for African troops to adjust to different African cultures and languages. He says it is cheaper and more efficient to move troops within Africa than to bring them from far-away places, such as Bangladesh or Papua New Guinea.

He rejects the notion that some troops might have ethnic or national biases in particular conflicts, which might make them less neutral than other troops.

"I don't see any ethnic problem there, because, first of all, the way the army operates, really, it has got a strict code, strict language, strict orders, and they have got a clear mission," he said.

But at the same time, says Major Bantariza, troops from different African armies who are suddenly put together on a mission need special training.

"There's going to be joint exercises to train them, so that then there is harmony and understanding of one another's concerns, one another's history, because each army has got its own history," he said. "For example, for us, we're a very highly political army. Others are not. The forces [that] would contribute would have to undergo a specific orientation training, an orientation of how to operate at an international level, under international law."

Having adequate training and resources for the new force are big concerns for analysts. They say most African armies lack the skills and equipment to carry out international peacekeeping missions, and have little or no knowledge of international laws related to conflicts.

The head of Nairobi's Security Research and Information Center, retired Colonel Jan Kamenju, says the AU standby force would have to have immediate human rights training, if it is expected to perform peacekeeping operations, which involve almost no use of force and, which mostly consist of separating warring parties.

He thinks the AU is spreading itself too thin by expecting the standby force to perform so many tasks.

"It will not be fair to mix up military operations with other things like food aid and such things," he said. "The military can help in doing the tasks. But their main task as a military, as a task force, is, it is a fighting force."

Col. Kamenju says, since military training is universally standardized, African armies would currently have the training, knowledge and skills to form an intervention force, which would, for instance, go into a country such as Rwanda and use force to stop genocide from happening.

Analysts say what will ultimately determine the success of the African Standby Force is adequate funding and whether AU member countries will have the political will in determining when and how to intervene, and when they should respect a country's sovereignty.

A professor of history and international relations at the U.S. International University, Macharia Munene, says the AU should take the lead when determining interventions.

"I think, here, the AU should be more forceful in this idea now, because the old idea of non-interference in internal affairs is a gone thing," he said.

He and other analysts say, without the financial and political will of member governments, the force will not be able to achieve the AU's plans.