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The African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) is a program that the United States launched in 1996 to address challenges of peacekeeping and conflict management in Africa. Its formation was prompted by fears that the ethnic massacres that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 might also take place in neighboring Burundi, and by the desire of the United States to avoid getting entangled in local conflicts, as occurred in 1993 when eighteen U.S. Army rangers were killed in Somalia, where the United States had intervened to provide humanitarian assistance.
Initially, the United States wanted to establish an African force that could intervene to save lives in humanitarian crises. After consultations with numerous African and non-African officials, the United Nations, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the U.S. government decided to establish a program to build such a capacity among African militaries.
ACRI was established to enable selected African military forces to respond to crises through peacekeeping missions in Africa. The initiative aimed at training and equipping African peacekeepers as rapid-response contingency forces that could be quickly assembled and deployed under the auspices of the United Nations, the OAU, or subregional organizations. Participation in peacekeeping missions depends on decisions at the national level. U.S. special forces soldiers conducted the training on common peacekeeping doctrines and procedures. African militaries were trained in basic soldiering skills at individual, squad, platoon, and company levels. Military personnel received training in logistics, leadership, convoy security, roadblocks and checkpoints, human rights, humanitarian law, negotiation and mediation, protection of refugees, relations with humanitarian organizations, and civil-military relations. The units were equipped with compatible communication facilities, water purification units, night-vision binoculars, mine detectors, uniforms, boots, belts, packs, and entrenching tools.
Brigade-level training for subregional command and control structures was conducted in Senegal and Kenya in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Follow-up training was conducted twice a year after the completion of the initial training period of two and a half years.
The selection criteria for countries participating in ACRI raised questions about U.S. interests. Such an initiative carries the risk of dividing states into those that are considered pro-American and those that are not. It also risks undermining local initiatives for conflict resolution. Countries participating in the program had to have democratic governments and professional militaries with a record of previous peacekeeping. Uganda and Ethiopia did not pass the test, but were selected to participate in the initiative. Several countries that were initially considered for participation became ineligible. Follow-up training was suspended in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Côte d’ Ivoire in 1998. Ethiopia was embroiled in a war with Eritrea, as was Uganda in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Côte d’ Ivoire had experienced a military coup and was facing civil strife.
ACRI partners contributed to conflict resolution in Africa. Mali and Ghana sent forces to Sierra Leone as part of the ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Cease-Fire Monitoring Group) peacekeeping force. Benin provided a contingent to Guinea-Bissau as part of ECOMOG, and Senegal contributed troops to the UN mission in the Central African Republic. The success of ACRI was undermined by the lack of an institutionalized security framework within which it could operate. An African continental security framework for conducting peacekeeping is in its infancy, while subregional security frameworks like ECOMOG and SADC (Southern African Development Community) that have participated in peacekeeping operations are fragile. Programs like ACRI also risk contributing to the militarization of conflicts by strengthening the militaries of conflict-ridden countries and regions. It is likely that the participation of some states in ACRI was motivated by the need to strengthen their militaries to deal with internal and regional conflicts rather than a desire to engage in peacekeeping.
The African Contingency Operation Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program succeeded ACRI in 2004. ACOTA focuses on training military trainers and equipping African militaries to conduct peacekeeping support operations and to provide humanitarian relief.
- Jendayi, Frazer. 1997. The African Crisis Response Initiative: Self-Interested Humanitarianism. Brown Journal of World Affairs 4 (2): 103–118.
- Paul, Omach. 2000. The African Crisis Response Initiative: Domestic Politics and Convergence of National Interests. African Affairs 99 (394): 73–95.
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