A $550 million (about Rwf380 billion) initiative that the US announced this week to enable rapid response of African forces to armed conflicts should focus on regional standby forces on the continent if it’s to be effective, a prominent Rwandan academic has advised.
Political scientist Jean de la Croix Nkurayija, a senior lecturer at the University of Rwanda, says regional standby forces in Africa have the potential to effectively carry out peace missions.
“People involved in peace operations need to understand the root causes of conflicts in which they intervene and regional forces have that potential,” Prof. Nkurayija told The New Times on Thursday.
“Issues in the Great Lakes region may not be the same as those in other parts of Africa; that’s why empowerment of troops needs to consider current efforts in regional integration if it is to succeed in peacekeeping.”
Noting that “the African countries have made clear that rapid response to crises is at the top of their peace and security agenda,” the US government announced its African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership (APRRP–better known as A-Prep), at the US-Africa Leaders Summit that was concluded this week in Washington DC.
How it will work
A-Prep is a new investment of $110 million per year for three to five years that the Obama administration says will use “to build the capacity of African militaries to rapidly deploy peacekeepers in response to emerging conflict” and describes it as “a concept that holds powerful life-saving potential.”
Under A-Prep, the US will partner with an initial group of six African countries—Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda—to develop “a rapid response capability programme” by building improved capacity in areas such as military training, equipment maintenance and repair, institutional support, and interoperability with other Africa-based peacekeeping forces.
Under the programme, African partner nations will have to commit to maintaining forces and equipment ready to rapidly deploy and state their intent to deploy as part of UN or AU missions to respond to emerging crises.
For Prof. Nkurayija, the initiative can be extremely useful if African leaders can strategically negotiate for the funds to be used to empower regional brigades due to make up the African Standby Force (ASF) under the African Union.
“Support mechanisms in terms of equipment, financial capacity, and training are exactly what we need from the US and other Western countries but we have to be involved in how the money will be spent,” Prof. Nkurayija said.
“The US doesn’t need to put too much conditionalities on how the money they give is used apart from ensuring that it’s not misallocated by the recipients.”
He urged leaders in countries that will benefit from A-Prep to “negotiate strategically.”
The AU’s Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, said in June that four of the five regional brigades due to make up the AU’s Standby Force will be fully operational by December 2015.
The regional forces, expected to attain “Full Operational Capability (FOC)” by the end of 2015, include the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF) made up of ten countries of Rwanda, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
Kagame warms up to initiative
President Paul Kagame has welcomed the A-Prep initiative, describing it as “an additional means” to ensure Africans remain at the forefront of solving their challenges.
“We are a country shaped and informed by our own history, where peace and security was lacking and resulted in what happened 20 years ago. This is about enabling Africa to stand on its own feet and deal with issues of development and growth,” Kagame said.
Rwanda and the US have previously worked together on peacekeeping matters, with the latter particularly helping in airlifting Rwandan peacekeepers and military equipment to mission areas.
But that support had to come because Rwanda had a specific mission to go to, experts say, and A-Prep means that the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) will now be receiving training and technical equipment on a permanent basis in the next five years even before crises erupt.
“Nobody knows when and where the next crises will happen. With this programme (A-Prep), the US will work with Rwanda to help the RDF become more self-sustaining when it comes to peacekeepers’ training and equipping,” said Benjamin Roode, public affairs officer at the US embassy in Kigali.
MP John Ruku Rwabyoma, member of the Lower Chamber’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security, said: “All we need is their support in logistics and financing the project. Africans can do the rest and will for sure do it right.”
Through A-Prep, President Kagame said, Rwanda was ready to work with other African countries in peacekeeping.
“We are happy to work with our colleagues across the continent and deal with different challenges, including trying to keep and maintain peace in our continent,” he said.
Last month, Rwanda—in its capacity as head of the monthly rotating Presidency of the UN Security Council—drafted a resolution on how best the global body could bolster peacekeeping efforts on the African continent.
The resolution was unanimously adopted by the Council and the US government said in a release to announce A-Prep that the US would “reach out to international partners” to discuss how to build a coalition to increase coordination on the goal to fill gaps in peacekeeping response among African troops.
“We are also prepared to provide support, including training for headquarters staff and key enabler functions, such as engineers, to catalyse the AU’s efforts to establish its African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis,” the Obama administration said.