The African Standby Force – QUO VADIS?

By Samgba Gyafla


Pursuant to the establishment of the African Union and the strong desire of African member states to have an effective peace and security regime in Africa, the African Union adopted a Peace and Security Protocol which created the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) in 2002, in Durban, South Africa. APSA’s main objective is to provide an overall framework for conflict prevention, resolution and management on the African Continent. At its center is the Peace and Security Council, which is supported by four components, namely the Continental Early Warning (CEW), Panel of the Wise, the African Standby Force, and the Peace fund.

At present the development of the ASPA components is uneven, although the ASF, which is the focus of this paper, has received considerable attention and support. This skewed advantage could be attributed to the fact that the ASF is the operational arm of the Peace and Security Council with respect to the deployment of peace support missions and intervention, pursuant of the Articles 4(h) and (j) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union, within the overall context of APSA. And given the prevalence of crisis on the continent, this will continue to be the case in the foreseeable future.

This short piece has a twin objective; to provide a quick overview of the development of the ASF concept since its inception and to draw lessons from recent crisis, particularly the Africa-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), to determine whether it is a worthwhile venture.

The ASF consists of standby multidisciplinary contingents, with civilian, police and military components in their respective countries of origin and ready for rapid deployment at the appropriate notice, to peace support missions mandated by the Peace and Security Council, or intervention missions mandated by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in the five ASF regions.

The ASF Policy Framework Document envisaged that at full operational capability (FOC) the African Union Commission and the regions would have developed all policy documents, concepts, guidelines and institutional structures, and ensure that required pledged units/personnel are in place and supported by the necessary equipment and logistics. In order to achieve this target three main benchmarks, referred to as Roadmaps, have been developed.

ASF Roadmaps

During Roadmap I (2003-2005), policy documents on doctrine, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), logistics, training and evaluation, and Command, Control, Communication and Information Systems (C3IS) were developed and adopted by the African Union (AU).  In addition, the ASF Rapid Deployment Capability (RDC) document was drafted and a study on the Continental Logistics Base (CLB) undertaken. The regional and continental Planning Elements (PLANELMS) were also established during this phase of development. Roadmap II (2005-2010) provided an opportunity to address outstanding gaps from the ASF Roadmap I, consolidate progress and emphasize on developing the ASF’s capacity to meet contemporary challenges faced by peace support operations (PSOs). These efforts led to the conduct of a continental evaluation exercise cycle known as AMANI AFRICA, in October 2010. AMANI AFRICA exercise enabled the testing of the deployment and management of Scenario 4 (multi-dimensional peace support operation under Chapter VI of the UN Charter – preventive deployment and peace building). On completion of the exercise the ASF was evaluated as having attained its Initial Operational Capability (IOC).

Roadmap III (2010-2015) is now underway. During this period, the AU and the regions would cover (i) areas of implementation outstanding from Roadmap II; (ii) the new challenges confronting Africa, including the role of ASF in humanitarian action, natural disasters and relief operations, maritime safety and security; and (iii) lessons learnt from AMANI AFRICA and the regional exercises. Last October, a Police and Civilian Focused Exercise, Ex NJIWA, was conducted to address the gaps identified in the 2010 AMANI AFRICA.


The deployment of AFISMA to Mali in early 2013 is a significant development for the operationalization of the ASF. Bearing in mind that the ASF is expected to be operationalized by 2015, AFISMA has brought forward the operational imperatives of this important African enterprise. The key challenges faced by AFISMA include the lack of strategic lift, political coherence between the AU and the ECOWAS, required capabilities and enablers of the pledged troops and sustenance of troops. In many ways, AFISMA also provided a glimmer of hope for the operationalization of the ASF. Of great significance, the African Heads of State, for the first time, at a donor’s conference held in January 2013 in Addis Ababa, pledged to support an African intervention through the AU’s assessed budget. This was later augmented by other bilateral pledges from some AU member states. For African security watchers this was a huge leap forward, as funding has always been the albatross to African peace support operations. In addition, the Mali experience has generated a momentum for the leaders of the continent to critically review the development of the ASF. In particular, the inability of ECOWAS or any Africa country to be the first responders to the Malian crisis continues to engage the attention of AU leaders and its international partners. For this reason, at the January AU summit, the Assembly called for the acceleration of the development of the ASF and requested for an update at the upcoming summit in May. To this end, the AU convened on 24 April an “Open Debate” on the APSA and the Rapid Deployment Capability in Addis Ababa. The outcome of this debate would form the basis of the recommendations to the Assembly.


Admittedly, the ASF is the key tool for the AU and its sub-regions to undertake peace support operations in Africa and would remain so in the foreseeable future. While it is difficult to predict how things will span out, particularly given the dwindling resources from its major benefactor, the EU, and the challenges that continue to bedevil the enterprise, there is clearly no shortage in the commitment of the AU and the RECs to move the process forward. Despite the challenges and skeptisms surrounding the operationalization of the ASF, some modest progress has been made, and AFISMA in Mali is a testament to this. With no other viable tools for the PSC to respond quickly to the crisis on the continent, it would be important for the AU and its sub-regions to seize the momentum to rally their member states around the concept, as well as galvanize international support, including reaching out to non-traditional donors to make the ASF a reality.


About africapeacesupport

Former Representative of the United Nations SecretaryGeneral in Guinea-Bissau and Head of UNOGBIS.
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