The East African Standby Force director Dr Abdillahi Omar Bouh tells Fred Oluoch why it can take a long time to intervene when there is a crisis in the region.
Why has EASF not been deployed in the trouble spots in the region?
The African Union Summit must decide that a situation is approaching genocide for us to deploy within 14 days.
But we have maintained a 15-member observer mission in Somalia at since 2011. We also carried out technical assessment in Burundi in 2015; and deployed an election observer mission in the Comoros during the referendum in August this year.
It was widely expected that EASF would be deployed in Burundi in 2015; why did you stay away?
When we are to intervene, there are issues we look at. In case of Burundi, the government was called to the policy organ committee meeting to explain the situation because we cannot deploy without the permission of the affected member. In this case, Burundi said they have no problem.
The affected member state must be given the right to answer, as it would not be fair to impose a decision on a member state.
Compared with other African forces such as that of the Economic Community of West African States, which made a successful intervention in Gambia in 2016, the EASF has remained invisible. Why?
That is true, we have not been very visible. But one has to consider that among the five standby forces, three are affiliated to regional economic communities, while EASF is a mechanism.
This is very important because those affiliated to regional economic blocs have the resources, but a mechanism like EASF depends on donations. Peace and security requires money, but EASF is still ahead in terms of capacity building, human resource and equipment.
We, however must start participating in humanitarian and disaster management situations, as well as playing a bigger role in refugee situations.
Critics say that red tape hampers EASF’s rapid response ability. Is this true?
No. Everything takes place concurrently. As soon as we see the signs of a genocide, all the process are done within two days. We then start counting 14 days to be able to deploy. For now, EASF must first test its systems before we know which areas to make amendments.
In the event that the EASF had to intervene in a situation in the region, who would foot the bill?
First, the EASF has a Peace Fund that currently has about $1 million. It comes from deductions of 2.5 per cent of the members’ annual contributions.
Second, the two member states that are required to make the initial immediate deployment as a vanguard against genocide fund the exercise for the first one month.
If the EASF were to intervene in any situation, would it be as peacekeepers or as peace enforcers?
We would go as peacekeepers and, in case of a problem, other member states are expected to reinforce us. According to the rules, the EASF, once deployed, is expected to sustain itself for three months before the AU comes in with reinforcements.
EASF member states are Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. South Sudan has an observer status.