SADC trains 1,300 peace-keepers

by Patson Phiri –  SANF 05 No 100
The dream of establishing a southern African stand-by army is slowly becoming a reality amid indications that SADC could beat the target of having a 4,000-strong peace-keeping force before the 2010 deadline.

The Harare-based SADC Regional Peace-keeping Training Centre has so far trained 1,300 troops drawn from all member countries of the regional body. The target is to have a force comprising 4,000 soldiers by 2010. Another group of 70 troops and civilians is expected to undergo training in Human Rights in Peace-Keeping Organisations from 16-26 January 2006.

The idea of coming up with a regional stand-by force was first mooted in 1996 in response to the challenges faced by African countries in the event of military or civil strife in member countries. The final green light to form the force came from the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation after a meeting held in Tshwane (Pretoria) in December 2004. The leaders agreed to appoint a planning team to establish the modalities of the stand-by force.

The training being undertaken by the SADC Regional Peacekeeping Training Centre (RPTC) is aimed at implementing the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation.

The training centre was set up following a resolution by the Inter-state Defence and Security Committee held in Lilongwe in 1996 at which Zimbabwe was mandated to host and coordinate the training programme.

The peacekeeping brigade will however not be stationed at any one place but will be called when needed. Its operations falls within the arm of the SADC Organ.

The training centre, which has been under Zimbabwe’s charge since its inception, is now being administered by the SADC Secretariat, which has seconded Colonel Joe Muzvidziwa and Lieutenant-Colonel Gaudence Milanzi as director and deputy director, respectively.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, handed over the training centre to former SADC deputy executive secretary, Albert Muchanga, in August.

Zimbabwe has been offering training to the region on peacekeeping duties since 1995. Previously, the centre was a facility for the Zimbabwean government and was transformed into a regional training centre when the Danish government constructed a structure to help SADC train its own troops following the 1996 resolution among the member countries.

The formation of a stand-by force is in line with the African Union Commission’s Article 13 on stand-by armies, which requires that each of the five African regions should have a minimum of 4,000 troops.

“The troops are ready to take up any assignment including enforcement or mere peacekeeping missions,” said Col Muzvidziwa.

“From the reports we have got on their performance in the UN peacekeeping missions, we are convinced that our model is working,” he added.

The training centre was honoured with the status of Excellency in peacekeeping training for the SADC region in 1999 following a visit by the UN inspection team.

Apart from their role as stand-by forces, the SADC troops have, over time, become active contributors to the UN peacekeeping missions.

Since 1991, SADC troops have contributed to more than 15 peacekeeping missions within and outside Africa.