LATEST: Eastern African Standby Force (EASF) ready to deploy to South Sudan to monitor new peace deal

By FRED OLUOCH, SEP/23/2018, SSN;

The Eastern African Standby Force is ready to deploy troops to South Sudan if requested by the African Union, despite failing to intervene in the Burundi crisis in 2015.

The 5,800-strong force attained full operational capability in December 2014, but has remained in obscurity despite the conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan and Burundi.

This is unlike its equivalent in the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which has been active and intervened in conflict-prone areas, with the latest intervention coming in January 2017 when the force removed Gambian president Yahya Jammeh.

EASF director Abdillahi Omar Bouh told The EastAfrican that deployment requires heavy resources.

“In South Sudan, the Igad must first deal with the mediation, which is already complete. The question now is, should Igad deploy troops or EASF? Igad has already given the task to Djibouti, Uganda, Somalia and Sudan. We have written to the chairman of Igad requesting that EASF be asked to go to South Sudan,” he said.

On the Burundi crisis, he said Bujumbura did not ask for help.

“In case a member state is in crisis, they are called to a Policy Organ Committee meeting to explain the situation because we cannot deploy without the permission of the affected member. Burundi said they had no problem.”

EASF is made up of troops from 10 partner states — Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

Among the key challenges the force faces is that three countries—Burundi, Comoros and Somalia—are yet to ratify the agreement that established the force in 2014.

The future of the Eastern African Standby Force (EASF) is in doubt due to bickering between partner states and the slow pace of regional integration.

This is despite efforts by member countries to rejuvenate the force, which is mandated to enhance peace and security in the region.

The East African Standby Force (EASF) has begun recruiting civilians who will be trained, growing its numbers even before the force is deployed in the region.

Even though having a standby force to respond to regional or continental political crises is considered prudent, the large force is mostly seen as toothless and passive especially in the face of violence in Burundi and Somalia.

EASF director Issimael Chanfi said the ongoing recruitment is part of the African Union guidelines that civilians working for the force must fulfil specific training requirements for them to be included on the AU roster.

“This is an ongoing process, and we are going to all member states conducting interviews and recruiting. We are just preparing them for future deployment where they may be called by the AU,” said Mr Chanfi.

The AU determines where and when the force will be deployed.

“Responding in a crisis depends on many things: The force is made up of 10 countries; these have to endorse deployment, and then the final endorsement has to come from the AU,” said Joshua Kariuki, in charge of rostering and co-ordination at the EASF secretariat. “Ours is to make sure we have the required people, who are fully trained and equipped for the job. The rest we leave to the AU to decide.”

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