African countries will no longer depend on the United Nations and Western powers to contain conflict flare-up in the continent.
The African Standby Force (AFS) that has been in the works since 1997 and whose inception was inspired by the 1994 Rwanda genocide, will be ready to respond to any major political or social upheval by the end of the year.
Although it will be a continental standby force with a central command, it will work with the help of regional standby brigades.
The force is a component of the African Union’s peace and security strategy for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts on the continent.
Each of the five regions of East, West, Central, North and Southern Africa now have their own standby brigades to respond to situations. East Africa’s Eastbrig force is headquartered in Karen, Nairobi.
The AU has a 15-member Peace and Security Council in which each region is represented by two members except the north which, because of its size, has three members.
The continental body demonstrated its preparedness by staging week-long exercises at the end of October in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia under the code name Amani Africa.
The exercises, according to Sivuyile Bam, the head of the AU Peace Support Operations Division, involved simulated situations that combined all key past conflicts in the continent: Somalia with its element of piracy; Sierra Leone and the diamond trade; Sudan with the Darfur conflict and the use of local militia; and Liberia.
Currently, the continent is facing a potential flare-up in Sudan, given the referendum in January to decide whether the South stays united with the North or secedes.
Other areas currently presenting a challenge to the AU include Guinea and Ivory Coast, both of which face a fragile post-election period.
Apart from Madagascar with a running political crisis, Somalia is a permanent item on the PSC agenda. Others being monitored are the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Zimbabwe and Kenya, whose post-election dispute did not last long but which is still fragile.
Ecomog has been the most effective in Africa and has intervened in most conflicts in West Africa, including in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
In the long term, the AU is looking at introducing best practices of common standards of elections to avoid conflicts, and finally a permanent Election Dispute Review Mechanism.
The regional blocs with their standby brigades will be key to the success of AFS. Any intervention must include the military, humanitarian and civilian components. Every region has pledged personnel and equipment for effective response.