By Samgba Gyafla
Following the recommendations of the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission in her report to the Specialized Technical Committee on Defense, Security and Safety (STCDSS) in April 2013, the African Union Summit decided to immediately establish in principle, as a transitional arrangement and pending the full operationalization of the African Standby Force (ASF) and the Rapid Deployment Capability (RDC), the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) at its last summit.
The main objective of ACIRC is to provide the AU with flexible and robust force, made up of military/police capabilities of some 5,000 personnel, enablers and force multipliers, equipment and resources generated and voluntarily and willingly provided by member states to be deployed rapidly to effectively respond to emergency situations, within the framework of African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). The planning, mobilization and coordination of the AICRC would be directly undertaken at the strategic level at the AU Commission. The political direction and strategic management, as well as the activation of AICRC would be under the Chairperson of the AUC, who shall delegate its daily management to the Commissioner for Peace and Security.
The deliberations of the STCDSS on the ACIRC were not without controversies. Sharp divisions emerged among member states, with some questioning the rationale and the haste for establishing a new concept while the continent was struggling to stand up the African Standby Force, and others supporting the idea to have a new mechanism to rejuvenate the continent to address its own conflicts in a responsible manner as a result of its recent experience in Mali.
There are merits and demerits on both sides of the argument. For example, some argue that given the frustrating experience with generating resources for the ASF, it would be extremely difficult to contemplate that a country or region will willingly put at the disposal of the AU the type of capabilities and enablers required for the ACIRC. In the event that the resources are provided by a member state, it would be difficult to stave off hegemonic tendencies from the equation. Conversely, most African countries admit that the continent’s inability to intervene quickly in Mali ahead of the French deployment was a humiliation Africans would want to put behind them. Those who took this position believe the time to act is now in order to give real meaning to the adage “African solutions for African problems.” The Summit therefore provided a unique opportunity for those countries to galvanize support and push ahead their agenda, but it remains to be seen whether the same goodwill will prevail through its implementation.
Besides the decision to establish the ACIRC, the Summit made some far-reaching decisions that need examination. They range from requests for contributions from willing member states, notification of the AU Commission by the member states on the contributions, the Chair and the Chairperson of the Commission to take appropriate steps to mobilize broad support and the Commission to develop detailed modalities for the full operationalization of the ACIRC, including providing an update by the next summit in January 2014.
The Summit’s call for contributions by individual states/regional organizations within the framework of the APSA raises critical questions. Given the state of readiness and capabilities of African militaries/police, coupled with the tepid response of member states so far to the operationalization of the ASF and the recent ECOWAS/Chad response to Malian crisis, there are ACIRC skeptics who think it would be short-lived. Unfortunately, during the time of writing there is no evidence yet that a member state or region has come forward in spite of the call by the Summit. However, should the heads of state and governments respond generously to the call and provide the resources, there would be significant paradigm shift in Africa’s response to crises in the future. Already, the AU has a reputation for quicker mobilization and deployment of troops compared to the United Nations.
Importantly, therefore, the Summit determined that this strategic endeavor of historic value calls for the involvement of the Governments and Heads of State themselves. It is strategic because it sits at the continental level and will be at the disposal of the Commission to address crises across Africa. Its historic values lies in the coincidence with the celebration of the golden jubilee of the African Union with the theme – African Renaissance – an indication that the continent has come of age and would want to take care of its own destiny.
 Assembly of the Union, Twenty-first ordinary Session, 26-27 May 2013, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.