The African Standby Force: External Support to an 'African Solution to African Problems'?
External support is essential to the development of the African Standby Force (ASF), an African-led mechanism for crisis management and peace consolidation in Africa. This research paper examines external support to the ASF by several bilateral and multinational contributors, assessing its strengths and limits, and attempts to measure the significance of the support to the aspired outcome. The starting point of the study is an analysis of the fast-evolving ASF project, which has gone through many phases of definition and redefinition since it was conceived in the late 1990s. The ASF, it is argued, is a ‘moving target', due to the inability of African stakeholders to settle on a clear concept, setting themselves ever more ambitious goals at every stage. Partners simultaneously suffer from, and contribute to this state of affairs. Whilst coordination efforts are undertaken, partners' support too often still responds to national (for bilateral donors) or institutional interests (for multilateral ones), each partner using the leeway created by the conceptual ambiguities of the ASF to press its own priorities. Given the overwhelming role of partners in the conceptual maturation of the ASF, and the impact of their funding decisions, this is turn exacerbates the confusion about the true direction of its development. Said differently, the ASF is burdened by the lack of political, conceptual, and financial ownership on the side of the recipients, who are also its main stakeholders. The result is at best an ambiguous partnership, and at worst a waste of human resources, financial means and political capital. Attempting to differentiate between degrees of ‘ownership', the study concludes that it is only if AU member states make a conscious effort to increase their political, conceptual and especially, financial, stake in the ASF that they will credibly demonstrate that it is not an entirely foreign-mastered project, but a real ‘African solution to African problems'.