The road to the East African Standby Brigade is riddled with potholes

The road leading to the Nairobi suburb of Karen resembles any you have seen in an African city.  It is small, patchy and the large potholes are filled with muddy water.
Rwandan soldiers head to Darfur as part of African Union peacekeeping force. EASBRIG is part of a larger proposed AU Force (Net photo)
Rwandan soldiers head to Darfur as part of African Union peacekeeping force. EASBRIG is part of a larger proposed AU Force (Net photo)

The road leading to the Nairobi suburb of Karen resembles any you have seen in an African city.  It is small, patchy and the large potholes are filled with muddy water.

But cars driving towards this largely expatriate suburb are made for such rough terrains, mostly, they are four wheel drive and the passengers inside these vehicles are almost exclusively white.

On both sides of the road after the large Nakumatt store there’s limited space for pedestrians. But there are few pedestrians in these parts of Nairobi.

Karen could easily be described as the Malibu or French Riviera of Nairobi where the rich and famous in Kenya reside, for good measure, the Kenyan Vice president and the powerful prime minister also live in this leafy suburb.

Karen is also the venue for the planning element and operational headquarters of the East African Standby Brigade (EASBRIG), many white land rovers and Ford vehicles are embellished with British Army insignia.

There are several senior British army officers residing in Karen too, they work in the nearby EASBRIG offices which were donated to the brigade and were only recently opened by British Ambassador to Kenya Adam Cook.

The British government is the leading donor to the EASBRIG, a peace keeping force that is being developed among a grouping of 11 African nations from Egypt toMadagascar.

Crisis control
EASBRIG is a proposed peace keeping force for a widened East African block and is part of a larger proposed African Union Force that is being developed and promoted by African leaders.

It aims to be a rapid reactionary to respond to crisis situations on the continent with a homogeneous and harmonious regional organisational and administrative structure.

The EASBRIG initiative followed from recent reforms in the management of African affairs which began with the formation of the Africa Union to replace the old OAU,
the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), all of which centre on strengthening African collective international capacity to guarantee each other's political stability and respect for democracy and human rights, and to promote economic development.

The African Union standby force is being built across all regional blocks on the African Continent, the East African region, which has grouped 13 thirteen nations is being largely funded by the British Government. 

The approved budget for the initial establishment and activities of the Brigade is $2.5 million (Frw1.4 billion) but to date only a handful of member countries have paid their annual obligatory fee.

The British government early in June donated Ksh120 million ($1.95 million, Frw1.1 billion) for the construction of the headquarters of the peace force in Nairobi.

The drawing board
The EASBRIG according to official documents is supposed to be ready by 2010, however with just twp years to go, the Nairobi Planning centre of the force known as Planelem, is still on the drawing board, with just a couple of conferences organised to discuss conflict and peace in Africa as some of its meager achievements.

In its formation, the force drew up a set of six scenarios in which they can react in case of any danger. These scenarios include observer missions and preventing genocide.

The seriousness of the scenario determines the speed of intervention, with genocide, the forces needs fours days to react.

The British army has sent a strong group of senior army officers whom along with senior military experts from Rwanda, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, and Uganda are devising plans for a regional standby army b 2010, the British training programme to the EAsbrig expires in 2015.

Command of the brigade rotates annually in alphabetical order among the member states of Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Conflicting interests
Observers are quick to point out that the East African force will not create a regional military block while the political block, the East African Community, is still dogged with disagreements and suspicion among member states.

They point out that the investment of the British in the force has wider implications than the force itself.

An independent expert observer of East African defense programmes however says the western governments especially the British are willing to shell out for EASBRIG because they have many interests in the region; and these interests are far from helping create a peace keeping force for East Africa.

"The British have many of their people residing permanently in Kenya, and in light of the issues have happened in Zimbabwe, they don’t want the same in Kenya," the expert says speaking anonymously. 

He adds that even the United States has specific security interests on the Indian Ocean with a strong military presence on the East African coast, "most of the interests themselves are competing with those of the member states of EASBRIG, which itself as its own complicated strings."

Marco Jowell, the regional research officer of the International Peace Training Centre in Nairobi which is part of the British army assistance programme to the EASBRIG, says that the challenges of the force are not just the interests of Britain or the US.

“The East African force faces among its challenges the fact that there are many diverse members with varying security, political and economic interests.

Member countries that belong to the EAC, IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Peace and Development) create a situation where there's no regional economic community to harmonise the interests and threats of the region. If that were the case, the block would coordinate the activities of EASBRIG like ECOWAS is doing in West Africa."

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been instrumental in solving regional crises in West Africa, especially the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Jowell adds that even ECOWAS has a lead nation in Nigeria which can easily mobilise her smaller neighbours but the EAC does not have such a nation willing to fully embrace her neighbours, or even promote the idea.

The EASBRIG ideally is supposed to be made up of 3000 troops; with each country among the 13 members contributing funds to sustain the force and troops which are stationed in their country and are always on standby should there be need for them.

However, to date, only Rwanda has contributed a standby force. Two senior Rwandan army officers, Colonels Muzungu and Claude Bizimana are part of the senior administrative circle of EASBRIG in Nairobi and Ethiopia respectively.

"It is more viable if the different regional blocks organised themselves according to their shared geographical and political proximity, if that were to happen, we would not have differences and differing interests for example, the interests of North Africa, Horn Africa, and the rest of Africa are different and sometimes competitive," explains the expert.

"Sudanese and Egyptians would rather be identified with Arabic Africa because simply of the lingustic issues, while the Horn of Africa also has a its own different lingua franca that is different from the rest of the members," he continues.

Some have argued that Sudan and Egypt are in the EASBRIG just for their interests in River Nile and nothing else. 

Jowell adds that the inter state rivalries among member countries need to be stopped as such suspcisions pose a serious threat to the establishment of the standby force; he syas for example, that it is hard to get the Ethiopians and Eritreans to agree.

The success of the EASBRIG will be depend on whether it can and will respond to situations of armed conflict and on the extent to which the presence regional peacekeeping forces will manage the strategic and operational challenges required to resolve complex multidimensional peace support or enforcement operations. For now the EASBRIG’s road ahead looks bumpy.

The facts

• The East African Standby Force is being promoted along the ideals of the UN permanent peace brigade known as the SHIRBRIG or Standby High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG), headquatered in Denmark.
• The SHIRBRIG was a result of the UN’s failure to react in time to avoid the genocides of Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1995.
• The specific objectives of the EABRIGADE are:

1. conduct and observe peacekeeping missions
2. intervene in member states when their internal security is gravely threatened
3. conduct preventive deployments where such security threats loom in the horizon
4. conduct post-conflict peace-building operations, including disarming and demobilising warring militias
5. provide humanitarian assistance in conflict and disaster   areas, and
6. perform such other functions as the Peace and Security Council may authorise.