AU Peacekeeping Unit Needs Teeth
Darfur should act as an object lesson for the African Union (AU) on what needs to be done to ensure similar political tussles, delays, and logistical problems do not recur when the African Standby Force is finally established in 2010.
Much will depend on the political will of African countries and the world's powerful nations.
Sudan disputes the numbers, but the United Nations estimates that up to 50000 people have been killed and about 1-million displaced due to the actions of the Janjaweed militia.
The Sudanese government has pledged to disarm the militia, but there is little evidence it has done anything and atrocities continue.
It is precisely for such security emergencies that standby force was conceived. Current plans are that it will have the capacity to separate warring parties and prevent genocide.
Yet it could well face similar problems that delayed the African mission to Darfur. The AU has criticised Sudan, but it has not moved far or fast enough to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe .
More than two months ago the AU's Peace and Security Council decided to send 120 military observers, and 270 troops to protect them, to Darfur, but the full contingent only arrives this weekend .
Last week the AU promised to send 2000 more troops to serve as peacekeepers. It also proposed the mission's mandate be extended to protect civilians.
Yet Sudan rebuffed the proposal, saying it amounted to "colonialism", and the contingent to protect observers should be the extent of the intervention .
This shows up another problem the Peace and Security Council and its standby force could face. The council could order an intervention by the force, but a country that is a key contributor to the force and other financially powerful African states could object to deployment.
The hesitant response to Darfur has also raised the question of how effectively the force could be deployed in, say, Somalia or Guinea, where there are conflicting interests between African states .
Darfur also highlights the need for a sizeable force. The current AU aim is for five African standby brigades one for each of the regions the body has carved the continent into . A brigade, most often with 5000 troops, is the lowest level in a military organisation capable of independent and sustained operations .
If such a robust force could be in place within two weeks, as is the eventual aim, the continent would be able to gain substantial international credibility for its peacekeeping efforts.
The sheer size of the Darfur region and wide dispersal of its conflict highlights the need for at least a brigade-size force, if not larger.
Yet the twoweek period that the council estimates the force will need from orders to deployment may be overly ambitious.
Realistically, senior military planners say, by 2010 three brigades will have been set up. So far the Group of Eight industrialised countries have pledged to finance one brigade, but have indicated they may consider financing the entire concept.
Planning for the force is most advanced in west and east Africa, but there is little progress in southern and central Africa, and political differences in north Africa make any decision unlikely soon.
By next year the AU hopes planning for the brigades will be completed, including decisions on what countries will be lead nations; where headquarters and depots will be located; command, control, and intelligence systems; and which states will supply elements such as airlift, air support, helicopters, and engineers.
One of the reasons for the delay in sending African troops to Darfur has been the absence of adequate funding and airlift capability. With no airlift, virtually no peacekeeping operations are possible in Africa.
Last week funding for the airlift of African troops to Darfur was provided by the Netherlands. No African countries have sufficient airlift capacity for a rapid and sizeable operation.
Even if SA bought more military transport, it would insufficient for the force . Insurance premiums for rented aircraft landing in hostile environments are prohibitive.
The assumption has been airlift capacity would be provided for the standby force by the US, UK or France; or it will be bought with funds from these countries .
If the force is to be worthy of the "standby" in its name, the issues of funding, airlift and logistical support in the field have to be sorted out . Ad hoc arrangements with wealthy nations are insufficient to guarantee political credibility, speed and effectiveness. (Source: Business Day, Johannesburg) Katzenellenbogen is international affairs editor