MUSANZE- President Paul Kagame yesterday launched the East African Community Command Post Exercise; code named Ushirikiano Imara and declared that it was a reflection of the progress the regional bloc has made in the integration process.
The two-week military drills at Rwanda Military Academy- Nyakinama, in Musanze District, will help the armies jointly develop their capacity to respond to “complex security challenges.”
The exercise has brought together more than 300 army officers representing all the five EAC partner states of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
The exercises come at a time when the East Africa and Horn region is faced with the problem of piracy on the Indian Ocean waters off the East African coastline and the threat of the rag tag Al Shabaab militia in lawless Somalia. Also posing a threat regional security are the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) and the Front Nationale Pour la Liberation (FNL) in Burundi.
Kagame said that EAC countries wanted to ensure that the achievements of integration are well protected. “The exercise; Ushirikiano Imara fits very well with our integration process and I commend the efforts by all those people who organised this exercise.
“This is the kind of cooperation that gives meaning to our Community as it illustrates unity of purpose and reflects the aspirations of the people of East Africa to come together and to respond to the constantly evolving circumstances,” he said
Kagame said that normally when people talk of integration; they understand it as enhancing cooperation in business, customs and taxes, yet that is just one aspect.
“We need to safeguard the gains accruing from our economic cooperation,” he told the dignitaries who included Ministers of Defence, heads of regional armies, members of the EAC councils of Ministers and diplomats.
“It is in view of this that our countries agreed on defence and security collaboration in the areas of military training, joint cooperation, technical cooperation, reciprocal visits and information exchange for mutual benefit.
“Rwanda fully supports this spirit of cooperation. This is why we are happy to host this command post exercise and the subsequent field training exercise that is scheduled for 2012,” he said
President Kagame said that during the decades of violent conflict in Africa, countries learnt key lessons, adding that while partnership with the international community is important, Africans themselves will have to find lasting solutions.
He said Africans need to find solutions to their own problems of peace and security and at the same time take development matters into their own hands.
“In conducting these military drills, we in the East African Community are signalling our resolve to address jointly the security threats that affect our people and that threaten to derail our national and regional development.
“Looking at the quality of planning that has gone into this joint exercise and high calibre of participation, I am confident that valuable lessons will be learnt in the search for solutions to the region’s security needs.”
President Kagame said that on top of their national duties, the armies of the EAC members states are involved in peacekeeping efforts within the region and beyond, commending the progress the defence forces have made in that area.
He said that the forces provide courage, confidence and hope for a better future for the citizens of the East African Community and called on the officers to undertake the military drills with courage and commitment.
The command post exercise directed by Rwanda’s Brig. Gen Jaques Musemakweri and deputised by Tanzania’s Brig. Gen James Mwakibolwa, will develop capacities in the areas of peace support, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and disaster management.
At the ceremony were Uganda’s Minister of Defence Dr Crispus Kiyonga, the Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Aronda Nyakayirima, and Hafsa Mossi, the EAC chair of the Council of Ministers.
Speaking at the function, the Secretary General of the EAC, Dr Richard Sezibera, applauded the military cooperation between the EAC member states as one of the most successful and exemplary programmes in the EAC integration process
“Since 2005, the EAC has held a series of joint military exercise on peace support, counter-terrorism, counter- piracy and disaster management.
“These exercises have enabled the EAC partner states, to develop and test standard operating procedures in peace keeping and counter terrorism,” said Sezibera.
He said that the exercise is being held at time when the EAC integration process is intensifying on all fronts, including the consolidation of the Customs Union, establishment of the common market, and the monetary union.
Sezibera thanked President Kagame for being “a source of inspiration in the defence forces in the mission to protect the territorial integrity, as well as peace and security in the whole region.
“Yours has been a powerful voice in the councils of African Union and the Great Lakes region on the peace and security matters, as well as conflict prevention, management and resolution.”
He pledged the EAC’s commitment to support the improvement of the inter- regional military exercises and the shared capacity of the security forces in the face of the rapidly changing nature of the security challenges facing the region and the fast changing technology.
The CPX Ushirikiano Imara exercise will be followed by a “Field Training Exercise” (FT-X) in 2012, which will also be hosted by Rwanda.