A multinational training exercise to improve the peacekeeping capacity of members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ended in Ghana Friday. The program is part of a larger African Union strategy to train and equip an African Standby Force that will be able to respond rapidly to crises in each region of the continent. Efam Dovi has more on the story for VOA from Ghana's capital, Accra.
Military officers from across the ECOWAS member states, with the exception of Liberia, participated in two weeks of staff training exercises in Ghana under the supervision U.S. military officers.
The goal of the program, which is sponsored by the United States, is to enable African nations to respond more quickly to humanitarian crises across the continent. Called African Contingency Operations Training Assistance, or ACOTA, the program was created by the Bush administration to provide training in peacekeeping operations and regular military tactics in Africa to military units from selected countries.
Scott Fisher, the U.S. official in charge of the program, says it is important that military forces on peacekeeping missions understand that they must carry out their duties in conformity with international laws. He says African peacekeeping forces are confronted by many problems that soldiers elsewhere usually do not have to deal with.
"Some of the very difficult things that people are handling here on the African continent have to do with child soldiers, for instance; have to do with gender inequality, how women particularly are treated in internally displaced camps, refugee camps; have to do with issues of non-judicial killings, that is to say essentially murder; how to deal with inequality of resources, going between the local community and internally displaced refugees who may be position next to."
He says these issues are addressed through continuous training so that the military becomes sensitive to them.
However, Fisher says inadequate resources continue to hinder African peacekeeping efforts. He says the international community has a responsibility to fund African peacekeeping missions. But he also says the African Union and the various regional economic communities need to work to generate some funds on their own as the economies of member states improve.
The training program for the first time brought together the ECOWAS Standby Force headquarters staff, made up of various specialist officers, as well as representatives of other ACOTA partner states from West Africa. The staff training exercise will be followed by field training next year.
Retired Major General Agyei Okae, who is the force commander for the exercise, explains why the multi-national force needs to train together. "We have differences in equipment procurement. We need to harmonize standard equipment purchases. For example we need to agree on the type of radio sets or
communication equipment that will facilitate communication between Francophone and Anglophone forces. So these are challenges we are looking at and trying to overcome, and trying to fix so that eventually when we have conflicts on the sub-region we have
very little problems on the ground."
Leaders of the African Union say they want the African Standby Force to be operational in each of Africa's five regional communities by 2010.