African Standby Force Mock military operation in Ethiopia simulates all too real African conflict
Elissa Jobson in Addis Ababa for the guardian
Tigrai Online Nov. 23, 2012
Standing in a tranquil spot in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, nestling under the lush, green shadow of Mount Entoto, it is almost impossible to imagine yourself in war-torn Carana. But that is exactly what the 106 participants in Exercise Njiwa (Swahili for peace) are trying to do in the grounds of the eastern brigade headquarters of the African Standby Force (ASF). The tinkling of cutlery that emerges from the refreshment tent is no substitute for the sound of gunfire and mortar rounds.
In cramped classrooms, full of banks of computers and detailed maps of the imaginary republic of Carana, on the equally fictitious island of Kisiwa, just off the real coast of Somalia, an African Union (AU) peace support operation is being simulated. The participants are undergoing training as part of the civilian and police components of the ASF.
Conceived in 2003 as a multidisciplinary rapid reaction force able to respond quickly to crises in the continent, the ASF is due to become operational in 2015. It will consist of five regional standby brigades with civilian and police units, as well as military ones. The force is supposed to be deployable within 14 days in extreme emergency situations without the need for the type of UN security council authorisation that has recently delayed the intervention of west African troops in Mali.
"Our particular focus is strengthening the capacity of rule of law institutions," says Julie Sanda, in real life the head of the department of conflict, peacekeeping and humanitarian studies at the National Defence College in Nigeria, but for the purposes of Njiwa a civilian member of the AU Mission in Carana (Amica).