An alarming surge in terrorist and security threats in Africa has stung South Africa to push with new energy for the establishment of a continental rapid response force, it emerged this week.
It is believed International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane did the rounds of African capitals before a two-day African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, which ended on Friday, in a bid to persuade African heads of state to finalise the matter
This was in response to the resurgence of terrorist groupings Boko Haram in Nigeria, still holding some 200 girls kidnapped in April, and al-Shabaab in Somalia, which has launched attacks in Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti in retaliation for their contribution to an AU force deployed to contain it.
Just this week 21 people died in a bombing in the Nigerian capital Abuja, raising the total death toll in terror attacks in the country this year to more than 2 000.
Conflict in the Central African Republic and Sudan also threatens to roll back recent peace gains.
South African diplomatic efforts are believed to have helped spur a decision at political level to set up an interim rapid response force by October.
President Jacob Zuma said in Malabo that countries that had volunteered to contribute to an African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises, which he has been pushing to enable the continent to deal with its own security crises until it has established a full-blown African Standby Force, had met during the summit to discuss its state of readiness.
Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the International Relations and Co-operation, told Independent Newspapers yesterday the issue would now be handed to a technical team consisting of military and finance officials from the 13 volunteer countries, who would finalise the “modalities” of the force.
They would thrash out who would contribute how many troops, as well as the financing.
“How it’s going to operate, who’s going to be commanding it, who’s going to be funding and what’s required, all of that work is going to be put together, and then in October you will get the details,” Monyela said from Malabo.
SA National Defence Force spokesman General Xolani Mabanga said he was unable to confirm whether South Africa would contribute troops or how many, as this would be a pledge made at the political level.
However, it is believed South Africa as a lead country in the initiative, will be expected to make a significant contribution, including troops.
Independent Newspapers, quoting unnamed sources, reported last year that three African countries had pledged a battalion each, and South Africa a motorised battalion.
South Africa already has extensive peacekeeping commitments on the continent, and a recently finalised Defence Review called for significant increases to the defence budget to sustain these obligations.
Monyela said “without a doubt” the events in Nigeria and the Horn of Africa, among others, had stung South Africa into action.
Meanwhile, it is believed that Egypt’s jailing of three Al-Jazeera journalists for subversive acts has being raised through diplomatic channels rather than directly at the AU summit, where the country was welcomed back into the AU fold after its suspension following the toppling of then-president Mohamed Morsi last year.
African leaders had chosen to welcome Egypt back into the fold after May elections won by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who toppled Morsi, diplomatic sources said, in the hope of encouraging the country’s democratisation.
- Saturday Argus