AFRICANGLOBE – Security challenges occasioned by terrorism and rebel movements have forced East African Community member states to make generous commitments to a proposed Eastern Africa Standby Force in the form of personnel and equipment.
A five-day meeting of military and police chiefs and ministers of defence that ended in Kigali last Friday saw four states pledge 3,400 troops to the 5,000-strong force required for EASF to be operational by December.
A number of formed-up police units, each having 140 to 170 officers, were also pledged, making it 380 policemen.
Brig-Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, the defence and security spokesperson for the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), told a media briefing on the sidelines of the meeting of Defence ministers from 10 nations: “We got all the soldiers we wanted. We got all the police we wanted.”
Rwanda and Uganda will each contribute a motorised battalion, Burundi one light battalion and Kenya a mechanised battalion.
Each battalion has 850 soldiers, making it a 3,400-strong force from East Africa alone. EASF requires 5,000 troops to deal with security challenges arising from conflict.
Ethiopia, which will host the headquarters of the force, pledged one motorised battalion while Somalia, home to the Al Shabaab militants who have threatened security mainly in Kenya and Uganda, will give a platoon of military police and Djibouti a company. Others pledged companies and squadrons.
Commentators see the generosity as a result of security challenges in the region.
Until recently, northern Uganda suffered a long-running bloody war between government forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony. The LRA currently operates in the Central African Republic and Sudan.
The country’s western flank was also ravaged by war when the Democratic Republic of Congo-based ADF rebels made incursions.
Four years ago, 74 people were killed in Kampala as they watched a World Cup football match; Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was punishing Uganda for contributing to peacekeeping efforts in war-torn Somalia.
Kenya is also grappling with the Al Shabaab, whose attack on the Westgate Mall last year killed at least 67 people, while a series of grenade attacks in Kigali a few years ago that left several people dead were blamed on the DRC-based FDLR rebels and other exiled dissidents.
Uganda and Kenya shoulder the burden of refugees from South Sudan, which is engulfed in a fierce civil war, and Somalia, which has not known peace for decades.
Tanzania is the only EAC member state that does not belong to EASF as it belongs to the Southern Africa Standby Brigade. Dar es Salaam however has its forces in the volatile eastern DRC under UN mandate to battle the myriad rebel fighters there.
EASF is one of the five regional multidimensional forces in Africa. The others are the Northern Standby Brigade, formed by NARC; SADC’s Southern Africa Standby Brigade; Western Africa Standby Brigade (Ecowas); and Central African Standby Brigade (Eccas).
By Emmanuel Rutayisire