The BBC reports that troops from the African Union’s (AU) African Standby Force (ASF) have started military exercises in South Africa on October 20. This exercise is meant to establish whether the ASF will be fully operational by the intended December 2015 deadline. The AU’s aspiration is that the ASF will free the continent of the need for non-African outside forces for conflict resolution.
On October 12, it was announced that the ASF’s logistics base will be in Yaounde, Cameroon. Established by the AU, the ASF will be multinational, and the goal is that it will be 25,000 strong. The current plan is that the force will consist of five brigades, one from each of the major regional groupings: the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group, the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of Central African States, the East African Standby Force, and the North Africa Regional Capability.
The current training exercises involve 5,000 military and police. The exercise will continue until November 5.
As is so often the case with multilateral initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa, the issue is money. In May, the AU said that it will need one billion dollars to make the force operational. The AU will be approaching international donors.
Africans have long seen a standby force as an essential ingredient in “African solutions to African problems.” So, too, have international friends of Africa. The training exercise now underway in South Africa is a major step forward.
The estimated cost of one billion dollars is probably realistic. At first glance, the number induces sticker shock. But, an effective standby force could significantly reduce the international community’s burden of providing – and funding – various peacekeeping missions.
Unlike many international organizations, the AU does not recognize the sovereignty of its member states as unlimited. It has criteria for intervention, and has been increasingly willing to do so as it has developed. Grounds for uninvited AU intervention include war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.