French President Francois Hollande (centre) and attendees including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second left), European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (left) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (right) pose for a family photo during the Elysee Summit for Peace and Security in Africa at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, yesterday.
PARIS: French President Francois Hollande urged African leaders yesterday to take a grip on their continent’s security by creating a long-delayed regional force, after Paris was forced into its second military operation this year.
Paris deployed troops to Central African Republic yesterday after it won UN backing for a mission to quell mounting religious violence in the nation of 4.6 million people. That followed a massive French operation to dislodge al Qaeda-linked fighters from the deserts of northern Mali this year.
Hollande told some 40 African leaders, gathered at a two-day summit in Paris to discuss security, that the crisis in Central African Republic showed the urgent need to press ahead with the African Standby Force (ASF).
“Africa must be the master of its own destiny and that means mastering its own security,” he said, after a moment of silence for anti-Apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday.
Some 400,000 people have been displaced in Central African Republic since Muslim rebels seized power in the largely Christian nation in March. With the violence escalating, more than 100 people were killed in the capital Bangui on Thursday.
With France keen to shed its reputation as ‘Africa’s policeman’, Hollande said Paris was ready to train 20,000 African soldiers a year and provide staff for the force’s command structure. France could also provide logistical aid.
More than a decade after it was first mooted, the African Standby Force (ASF) has not got off the ground. In May, the African Union approved a temporary mechanism, the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), after France’s intervention in Mali made plain Africa’s own inability to resolve the crisis.
The creation of the body has been hobbled by a lack of financing and logistical capacities - particularly transport planes - as well as the lack of a command structure.
“We are grateful to France but it’s not normal that it’s forced to intervene to save us, like a fireman, 50 years after independence,” Guinean President Alpha Conde said, urging the creation of an African ‘NATO’.