AFRICA DAY: Vital for Africa to arm itself

Levi Mukarati – Deputy News Editor

Two weeks ago, the eastern parts of the DRC burned as suspected Ugandan rebels resumed fatal attacks in the volatile area.

The latest spate of attacks is despite the heavy presence of United Nations peacekeepers. At the same time, guns blazed in Bujumbura as rival groups of soldiers vied for control of Burundi’s capital.

The clashes were triggered by confusion over the success of an attempted coup on President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government.

At the height of the murders and confusion in Burundi, at least eight soldiers were killed. Oh, and 10 other people were injured in clashes in Mali. These casualties followed attacks by armed separatists near Timbuktu.

Across the Zimbabwean border, Renamo in Mozambique maintains its unpredictability. Africa is burning and is currently “playing host” to wars or conflicts in which at least 14 000 people have died since January while another 35 000 were killed in 2014.

The high fatality figures expose the UN’s commitment to military interventions and resolving disputes in Africa. Since no African country is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the continent remains all on its own.

Africa continues to be silenced in deciding, on the international platform, what constitutes a threat to security or breach of world peace. Observers note the UN Security Council has made determinations of breach of peace under Article 39 by recommending military intervention in Korea (1950), the Falkland Islands (1982) and the Iran-Iraq War (1987). This has never happened in Africa.

The latest figures show that 21 of Africa’s 54 countries are involved in war or are experiencing post-war conflicts. In West Africa, these include Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Togo; while Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda make the list in East Africa.

Burundi and the Central African Republic provide their fair share of headaches for the continent in Central Africa; as Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt in North Africa have not known peace since the turn of the new millennium and after the instigation of the “Arab Spring” at the end of 2009. According to Project of the Study for the 21st Century (PS21) 2014 report, almost every major war in 2014 saw a significant increase in casualties.

“The important thing, however, is that when you compare data for 2014 and 2013, you get a very significant increase. That says something very concerning. Sudan and South Sudan remained amongst the world’s bloodiest wars. Indeed, if the two countries had remained unified, their combined death toll would have pushed them to number three spot (of top 20 bloodiest countries in wars in 2014) above Afghanistan (but below Syria and Iraq).”

The report shows that five African countries – Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Central African Republic – were among the top 10 war-torn countries in 2014.

The establishment of the African Standby Force, therefore, becomes a matter of urgency. A fortnight back, defence and security ministers from across Africa, backed by their top military personnel, were in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to seek to breathe life into the ASF before year-end.

Having suffered operational setbacks, the establishment of the force has so far missed three deadlines – 2008, 2010 and 2013 – and Africa cannot wait any longer.

Addressing the 8th Specialised Technical Committee of Ministers of Defence, Safety and Security held together with the 11th meeting of the African Chiefs of Defence Staff and Heads of Safety and Security Services on May 15, African Union Commission Chair Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said member states must redouble efforts to meet the ASF’s December 2015 deadline. In a speech read on her behalf by AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Mr Smail Chergui, Dr Dlamini-Zuma said “additional civilians had been recruited on a short term basis within the African Union peace support operation division to proffer (support in) key areas such as combat and discipline, mission support, human resource planning and human rights protection”. Zimbabwe’s Defence Minister Dr Sydney Sekeramayi said despite financial problems, preparations were already underway to launch trial military action ahead of full deployments in conflict areas.

Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga castigated Africa’s over-reliance on foreign support

“We cannot continue to depend on foreign forces each time there is a threat to peace and security within our midst and should shy away from being dependent on external State and non-State actors since their interests may not always be in tandem with our own,” he said.

Article 13 of the African Union Peace and Security Council Protocol, signed in 2002, says member states must establish standby contingents for participation in AU-authorised peace support missions. The standby force will comprise multidisciplinary contingents, with civilian and military components in their countries of origin and ready for rapid deployment. Speaking to journalists before the meeting of the top military and ministers, head of AU Peace Support Operations division Mr Sivuyile Bam said it was up to member states to play their part.

He said it was expensive “to maintain people in the middle of nowhere. We must put in fuel, food and provide medical facilities and related matters”.

As politicians talk shop, thousands of people continue to die in wars and civil strife.

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