East Africa is working towards establishing a mutual defence pact as part of regional integration efforts.
Speaking in Kigali during the opening ceremony of joint exercises by the defence forces of member states of the East African Community, the organization’s Secretary General Dr Richard Sezibera said the region’s heads of state had already endorsed a defence protocol.
This will replace the EAC Memorandum of Understanding on Co-operation in Defence Matters under which the joint exercises have been held over the years. “I urge the partner states to ratify the protocol and deposit the instruments of ratification with the Secretary General of the Community before 30th November 2012 as agreed,” he said.
“I look forward to the speedy conclusion of a negotiated mutual defence pact soon after.” The current joint exercises involving armed forces from across East Africa will be held at Gako and Lake Kivu in Rwanda. Code-named “Ushirikiano Imara 2012”, the joint field training exercises are being held as part of the defence co-operation between partner states of the East African Community.
Dr Sezibera said that the role played by the region’s forces in Somalia and Sudan was proof of the importance of the careful planning, drawing and combat tactics that were a hallmark of the joint military exercises.
“The trainings have been designed for the East African setting and have been customized for practice by participants, both military and civilian, to help them in the planning and conduct of Peace Support Operations, Disaster Management, Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Piracy activities with the purpose of improving the capabilities of the partner states’ armed forces to combat complex security challenges,” said Dr Sezibera.
This year’s exercises will be the sixth by the EAC countries since 2005, when a Command Post Exercise code named “Ongoza Njia” was conducted in Tanzania. Other joint military exercises have been held in the intervening period in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Lauding the participation of regional armies in Amisom – the African Union Mission in Somalia – Dr Sezibera said that Kenyan troops were instrumental in liberating Kismayu from the Al Shabaab militia, which has links to the global terror group Al-Qaeda.
This, he said, was in addition to counter-piracy operations by naval forces of the EAC partner states, whose efforts have dealt a severe blow to pirates and drastically reduced the number of pirate attacks in the first half of 2012. The International Maritime Bureau’s global piracy report reveals that incidents of piracy off the coast of Somalia dropped from 163 in the first six months of 2011 to 69 in 2012.
This year’s training exercises seek to harmonise the working relationships among the EAC partner states’ armed forces, foster improved co-operation and enhance co-operation between the civil authorities in the Community and international organizations.
Specific objectives of the exercises include to evaluate inter-operability between the partner states’ armed forces; to enhance the readiness of regional forces to respond to complex security challenges; to strengthen co-operation among partner states’ armed forces and other non-military agencies; and to revalidate the Community’s standing operating procedures for peace support operations, disaster management and counter terrorism as well as test the standing procedures on counter-piracy activities.
Other objectives are to validate the multinational logistic support concept; to exercise participants on the application of international humanitarian law; to allow participants to practice on command, control, computer and communication in a combined joint task force setting; and to plan the conduct of public affairs in support of such operations.
The ceremony in Kigali was attended by senior military and government officials from across the region as well as members of the East African Legislative Assembly, among other distinguished guests.
By ISAAC MWANGI, East African News Agency, Arusha (EANA)