SADC Standby Brigade Takes Shape

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Plans to establish the SADC Brigade, one of the five brigades from different regions that will form the African Standby Force, are at an advanced stage. The brigade may be launched during the meeting of the SADC Heads of State (HoS) in 2007. The brigade will be the main player in the process of conflict resolution and management, according to Deputy Minister of Defence, Victor Simunja, who addressed participants at an Executive Course in Managing Multilateral Peacekeeping Missions in Okahandja recently. Simunja said the force, to which Namibia has pledged soldiers, has its roots in the signing of the Mutual Defence Pact by HoS on August 26, 2003 in Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which demonstrated that, given the will and the capabilities, SADC countries could jointly participate as a region in conflict prevention and management. Namibia has assigned two of its senior military officers to the planning unit of the brigade headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana. One of the officers is Brigadier General Malachiah Nakandungile, who is the head of the planning element, which has been tasked to conclude the mandate as set by SADC Heads of State and governments. New Era could not establish the name of the other officer yesterday. The Ministry of Defence’s Head of Central Staff, Abraham Iilonga, said the force could have been inaugurated by last year in June but it failed to materialize due to some logistical arrangements. SADC member states have pledged over 6ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 soldiers to the peacekeeping force, but Iilonga could not reveal Namibia’s contingent because it is yet to be finalized. He said the size of each member state’s contribution would depend on the size of its military force and also on the standard that has been developed as far as the contributions are concerned. In preparation for its enhanced role in the maintenance of peace and security, the African Union planned the establishment of a Peace and Security Council that is tasked with identifying threats and breaches of peace on the continent. The AU has recommended the development of a common security policy and, by 2010, the establishment of an African Standby Force capable of rapid deployment to keep – or enforce – the peace, to include standby brigades in each of the five regions and incorporate a police and civilian expert capacity. Simunja said leading to the inauguration of the brigade, all SADC member states and Madagascar, which is not a member, participated in a peacekeeping exercise in Botswana. Other activities that have been carried out in SADC in preparation for the establishment of the force are the completion, design and production of the Regional Military Doctrine, which was assigned to SADC by the AU, and also the integration of the Regional Peacekeeping Training Centre in Zimbabwe. The centre, said Simunja, is already running courses and workshops. At the peacekeeping course, Simunja said some of the challenges involved in peace-support operations, especially when force members encounter local communities, are HIV/AIDS and contagious infections. Peacekeeping courses should therefore reflect on the containment of such pandemics, said he. Due to the fact that soldiers stay away from their families for long periods, thus becoming more vulnerable than the general population, the rate of infection in the military is higher. And considering the importance of their responsibility in their respective nations, the impact of the epidemic spreads not only to their immediate families but also affects the whole peacekeeping process.