Accessibility links

Breaking News

Creating Africa's Rapid Deployment Forces, a Distant Prospect - 2003-11-06

Establishing Africa's own rapid reaction forces to stop conflicts on the continent is a hot topic of discussion among regional groupings. But, security experts say a lack of money and political will make the goal a distant prospect.

Last week, army chiefs from the 11-member Economic Community of Central African countries recommended creating a regional brigade to prevent conflicts.

The initiative, which took place in Congo's Brazzaville follows an initiative by the continent-wide Africa Union to establish what it calls a stand-by peace force.

In West Africa, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, is also trying to create a regional force which would be ready to intervene in case of civil war in one of its member countries.

This year, ECOWAS peacekeepers have deployed in Ivory Coast and Liberia, but in both cases the troops arrived on the ground weeks after a decision was made to deploy them.

An expert with the Ghana-based African Security Dialogue research group, Prosper Nii Nortey Addo, says talking about the indigenous peacekeeping force and doing something about it are very different things.

"There is a need for a political will so that when they will have to dispatch this regional brigade force they have properly outlined the procedure to follow," he said. "And there would need to be funding because you notice that African states usually don't have funds to be able to support a regional brigade."

The writer of a book about peacekeeping in Africa, University of Dundee Professor Norrie MacQueen, agrees. He says other problems for regional African forces include a lack of impartiality to solve conflicts and a lack of training.

He says a Nigerian-led peacekeeping effort in Liberia during the 1990s showed the limits of this approach, as the Nigerian soldiers became increasingly corrupt and war resumed.

Mr. MacQueen says he believes a combined peacekeeping mandate, involving an African grouping, the United Nations and also a former colonial power, seems to be a better and more likely approach in the years ahead.

"The future of peacekeeping in Africa is going to be a kind of three-legged stool if you like between U.N. peacekeeping as traditionally conceived, peacekeeping by regional bodies which whatever its failings is the main track that will have to be followed and intervention, formal or informal, by the former colonial powers, and the trick I suspect will be to bring these three strands together," said Professor MacQueen.

In Liberia today, he says, funding from the United States, which helped found the West African nation for freed slaves, political will from Nigeria which granted asylum to former President Charles Taylor, and troops from West Africa and the United Nations have helped end the war for now.

There have been reports of clashes in northern regions, but U.N. officials say they involve looting by armed fighters before they are to be disarmed in December.

The intervention in Liberia may prove to be successful, but it was not rapid. The vanguard of West African troops supervised by U.S. Marines arrived in August, weeks after the first assault on Monrovia in June.