A joint military training exercise involving officers from defence forces of East Afican Community (EAC) partner states and the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) started at the Chukwani Military Centre in Zanzibar yesterday.
The Tanzanian minister for Defence and National Service, Dr Hussein Mwinyi, flagged off the command post exercise, hailing the partner states’ continued cooperation in defence.
He called for the speedy creation of a framework for cooperating with partners, such as Usafricom, saying:
“Peace, security and stability are the lynchpin for accelerating socio-economic development. It is in this context that the EAC partner states recognised that collective defence enhances regional peace and security.”
The minister praised the US Government for the assistance that made the exercise, codenamed Natural Fire 11, possible, describing it as a good friend and strategic partner.
He stressed, however, that any assistance should complement EAC efforts, and advised that defence cooperation with the bloc’s partners needed to be clearly structured.
“I urge the East African Community secretariat to expedite the formulation and signing of the framework for working together with these cooperation partners as we directed. Future exercises should be conducted within this framework,” Dr Mwinyi said in a speech made on Sunday in Arusha.
The exercise, whose theme is to ensure security and foster regional stability, aims to develop the capacity of EAC defence forces to respond quickly and efficiently to complex security challenges.
It also aims to harmonise the working relationship among them and foster cooperation between their forces and the US. Natural Fire 11 further seeks to enhance cooperation between the defence forces, civil authorities and international organisations as well as improve operations between them.
The EAC deputy secretary general (Planning and Infrastructure), Dr Enos Bukuku, noted that with the various threats the body faces, partner states have a collective responsibility to ensure the region is secure.
Speaking on behalf of the EAC secretary general, he said: “The EAC may have a fundamentally developmental mission. It is a fact, however, that peace and security are the prerequisites for social and economic development.”
On behalf of the US contingent, Brigadier General James Owens described the collaboration between the EAC defence forces and his country as “another positive step towards a more stable and secure region.”
He further said: “Let’s ensure that what is gained here will have a lasting impact on the ability of our armies to respond to the complex challenges we face today and in future.”
The Zanzibar exercise, which will end next Tuesday, focuses on peace support operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, counter terrorism and counter piracy.
Natural Fire 11 follows similar exercises held in the past in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (Mainland). A total of 35 officers from Uganda, 36 from Burundi, 37 from Rwanda, 40 from Kenya and 80 from Tanzania take part in the exercises.
These joint exercises were first held in 1998 by the US and Kenya. They were reconfigured in 1999 as multilateral exercises of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Rwanda and Burundi were subsequently coopted upon joining the EAC in 2007.
Exercises such as Natural Fire 11 are part of EAC efforts to strengthen cooperation in defence by the EAC partner states. They are guided by a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in defence.
This lays down four areas of cooperation, namely: Military training, joint operations, technical assistance and visits (including sporting exchanges and range competitions as well as visits by the chiefs of defence forces) apart from exchange of information. The MoU was signed in 1998 and revised in 2001.