SA wins – and loses – on African stand-by force

2014-02-02 14:00

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President Jacob Zuma has scored a small victory by getting the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa to agree to the immediate setting up of an African stand-by force to intervene in conflicts on home soil.

But it came with a huge compromise after some countries objected to the suggestion that AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma should have the power to decide on the deployment of the African Capacity for the Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC).

Member states eventually agreed during a closed-door plenary on Thursday that the AU’s peace and security council should deploy the force, even though South Africa felt this could prevent effective deployment in the case of a member state having an interest in the conflict.

“Some countries wanted to delay and wait until 2015, but we said people are dying now,” State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele told City Press on the sidelines of the summit.

“South Sudan said in the plenary if this mechanism was there, people wouldn’t have died (in the conflict that broke out in the country in December last year),” Cwele said.

The conflicts in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, where South Africa last year lost 13 paratroopers, overshadowed this week’s gathering, which had agriculture and food security as its theme.

Nigeria, which is often regarded as competing with South Africa for political and economic dominance, is said to be trying to delay the process to give itself time to sort out its internal problems with terror group Boko Haram.

It is also struggling with party political tensions ahead of next year’s elections.

It has in the past been involved with regional peace efforts.

Nigeria was also concerned about the original suggestion that the president of the biggest contributing state commanded the intervention.

It was agreed that the AU’s peace and security council would retain control.

Cameroon had similar reservations.

A South African official involved in the process said Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan praised ACIRC in the closed plenary, but he didn’t sign up.

The first nine countries to sign up were Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Angola, South Africa, Guinea, Algeria, Chad and Senegal.

Ethiopia and Mauritania also came on board later, while Ghana and Kenya were also on the verge of joining.

South Africa was this week elected onto peace and security council.

Dlamini-Zuma told journalists yesterday she hoped more members would join.

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane yesterday likened it to the African Peer Review Mechanism and Nepad, which started small as voluntary bodies but which have since been joined by most African countries.

ACIRC has been described as “a coalition of the willing” and it would take roughly a month to deploy.

Cwele said the member country nearest to the conflict would deploy its troops because it would be the quickest, but others would be able to follow on a voluntary basis.

Zuma yesterday at an AU pledging conference slammed warmongers on the continent.

“Those carrying guns, who are making conflict, who are causing harm, they do things they would not have done under normal circumstances. Because they carry guns they feel powerful,” he said.

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