African Union (AU) military chiefs have raised concern over the involvement of external forces in regional conflicts, particularly in the Horn of Africa, saying that the increase in foreign military bases of western countries could potentially derail efforts towards achieving peace and stability.
The concern was raised yesterday at the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF) Policy Organs meetings in Kigali.
For long, countries in the Horn of Africa, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia have witnessed sustained political and social conflicts. The Horn of Africa is one of the most conflict-ravaged regions on the continent, with constant battles involving armed campaigns against the Al-Shabab terrorist group.
Although the African Union representative commended efforts to restore peace, they highlighted that the increasing number of foreign military bases on the continent was cause for concern.
“The establishment of foreign bases within the region and the involvement of the external forces in the conflicts in the Horn of Africa is a worrisome development,” Major General Trust Mugoba, the Chief of Staff for the African Standby Force, said.
Gen Mugoba also doubles as the Chief Military Advisor to the AU Peace and Security Commissioner.
The African Union has been working to restore peace and security within the region, but political and social tensions in this part of Africa have increasingly attracted the attention of Western countries.
Currently, America has its permanent military base in Djibouti, Camp Lemonnier, which serves as the refueling point for all U.S naval ships.
China also set up its naval base in the same country last year. UAE has a base in Somaliland while Russia was in talks with Somalia to open a military base in there.
“We urge member states of the region to remain seized with these developments for the sake of achieving peace, security and stability within the region,” said Mugoba.
Meanwhile, the Union has also raised concerns over the proliferation of small arms and weapons as well as extremist groups from the Middle East.
Yesterday’s annual policy organs meeting convened chiefs of defence forces and staff from EASF member states, including Burundi, Kenya, Seychelles, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, Republic of Sudan and Uganda.
Despite the on-going conflicts in the region, the meeting commended Ethiopia’s efforts to take strong stance to realising the conclusion of longstanding political tensions in Eritrea, of which EASF made a contribution.
According to Abdillahi Omar Bouh, the EASF Secretariat Director, EASF has also contributed to the development towards normalisation of relations between Eritrea and Djibouti, and efforts towards the cessation of violent conflict in South Sudan.
These efforts, the officials said, need to be emulated by other members and countries that are facing the same conflicts in the region.
Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, the Chief of Defence Staff of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), highlighted that many challenges continue to lie ahead in the region.
“There is need to work together by deepening our partnership as member states, and that way we can make a significant contribution to this end,” he remarked, adding that, “peace and political stability are the main ingredients for the accelerated socio-economic development.
The Peace Fund
Top on the agenda for this year’s meetings is to look for ways to strengthen the regional Peace Fund that members touted as a big step toward enhancing the efforts aimed at pursuing peace and stability in the region.
According to Omar Bouh, the Fund has grown significantly over the past one year, and it is now almost worth US$2 million.
“When I took over the leadership, the Fund was about US$900,000 but today, we are at US$1.8 million. We almost save almost US$100,000 monthly,” he revealed, adding that the Fund helps them to drive the peace and security activities, including deployment of forces and experts in war-conflict countries.
Even though this amount may seem small compared to the amount needed to carry out peace and security activities, the official said it is important to address own conflicts.
The EASF is among the few standby forces in the region that has such kind of a fund.
He, however, said that they were looking at strategic ways for resource mobilisation to grow and promote the Fund.
AU has a goal to silence guns in Africa by 2020 and EASF wants to contribute to that goal. At the meeting, which ends on Friday, members are looking at more ways to realise the target and enhance peace, stability and security in the region.