KIGALI (Reuters) - A long-delayed east African rapid reaction force - meant to help stamp out unrest from the Seychelles to Rwanda - will be up and running in December, senior regional officials said on Friday.
The idea of a joint force for the region - home to some of the continent’s most promising economies, but also some of its least stable countries, including Somalia - was first mooted in 2004, but has been beset by delays and funding shortfalls.
The Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF), with 5,000 soldiers from 10 nations, will help the region deal with its own rebellions, civil wars and coups, and reduce its reliance on foreign troops, officials at a meeting of defense minister said.
“This is aimed at making sure that we keep our own security. The U.N. can come and complement, but we want to make sure that we take charge,” said Rwanda’s Defense Forces spokesman, Brig Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita.
The force’s first joint military exercise training will be in Ethiopia in November, he added.
The force will be set up, funded and staffed by the 10 states - Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Seychelles, Comoros, Djibouti and Sudan, said officials at the event.
Its actual deployment would have to be authorized by the African Union said Nzabamwita.
“Of course there always challenges. There are challenges of coordination. There are challenges of funding. But we’ll surmount all these. We’ve come a long way,” said Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Defense, Raychelle Omamo.
Uganda sent its troops into South Sudan to back the government there after fighting erupted in December, pitting President Salva Kiir’s forces against supporters of Riek Machar, his former deputy.
African Union peacekeepers have been trying to stabilize Somalia which has not had an effective central government for the past two decades. The Somalia peacekeeping mission is under the authorization of the United Nations, which helps fund the troops.
More than 90 percent of the AU’s peace and security efforts, including its mission in Somalia, are funded by external actors such as the European Union and the United States.
Writing by James Macharia