South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. File photo: Phill Magakoe
South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. File photo: Phill Magakoe

SA troops ‘not going to Nigeria’

By Peter Fabricius Time of article published Jan 28, 2015

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Addis Ababa - The South African government has deplored reports that ex-SADF members are heading for Nigeria to help that country fight the growing menace of Boko Haram.

How to fight the Islamist terrorists group which has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians in northern Nigeria and across its borders, is a major challenge at the AU summit this week.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is almost certain to be elected at the summit on Friday as the AU’s chairman for this year, which his Zanu-PF ruling party will see as an endorsement of the controversial 90-year-old’s policies. Western governments are sure to see it as a failure of the AU to implement its own values.

President Jacob Zuma is expected to arrive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, on Wednesday to participate in the deliberations about how to address the Boko Haram menace, including at an AU Peace and Security Council meeting on Thursday at heads of state level.

At a press briefing in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane reacted with “dismay” to reports in the media that ex-SADF officers are heading for Nigeria to help train the Nigerian military.

“We always discourage South Africans from entering the fray,” she said adding that the government was still trying to confirm the reports.

But it is by no means clear that the AU has its own solution.

The minister said a new AU rapid response force was almost ready to go into action.

She also confirmed that South Africa’s battalion in the force, comprised of contingents of up to 11 nations, was now ready.

The force is called the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises and it was proposed by South Africa because the AU’s more structured African Standby Force is taking so long to get going.

Fighting Boko Haram is one of the assignments military planners have strategised for the force, but analysts say Nigeria is dead against foreign soldiers – especially South Africans – fighting on its soil.

Relations between Nigeria and South Africa have been cool under Zuma and President Goodluck Jonathan is believed to be especially reluctant to accept foreign help on the eve of crucial presidential elections next month where he is seeking re-election.

But Nkoana-Mashabane said this was not an obstacle to intervention and that the leaders of the 11 countries that have volunteered for the force would meet on the sidelines of the summit to decide where it should be deployed.

She said she was confident the battalion was “more than ready” for action.

“This is not going to be waiting for the usual bureaucracy, because this is being done through the spirit of voluntarism and the countries that have volunteered come with the wherewithal.

Officials said the Economic Community of West African States was expected to ask the summit to ratify a regional force taking on Boko Haram.

Independent Foreign Service

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