SADC military, air forces in joint humanitarian operation

By Lahja Nashuuta

Oshakati – SADC member countries are hosting the fourth Humanitarian Aid Assistance in north-western Namibia under an operation dubbed “Blue Kunene” named after the drought-hit Kunene region, which is also the target of the exercise.

The operation, which involves military and air forces from the region, started on 25 August and runs until 7 September with mock exercises on how to respond effectively to both man-made and natural calamities in the region and beyond.

About  11 SADC military and air force commanders and 1 200 military personnel from Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia  and Zimbabwe and the host Namibia are attending and have already deployed their personnel and aircraft.

Military aircraft taking part in the exercise include two C-212s, a King Air and three Oryx medium transport helicopters from the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF), Chetak helicopters, and a CN235 from the Botswana Defence Force and a C212 aircraft from the Zimbabwe Air Force.

Namibia Defence Force Minister Penda Ya Ndakolo said Exercise Blue Kunene provides an opportunity to put skills learned during the previous operation to test and develop new ones.

Over the next 10 days, military personnel would distribute over 400 tonnes of food aid in Kunene’s constituencies of Ruacana, Opuwo and Okangwati, Epupa and Sesfontein.

The humanitarian operation is conducted in close-collaboration with the Disaster and Risk Management Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister. The military forces would also conduct a medical outreach programme in the form of screening and treatment of various ailments.

Blue Kunene Exercise forms part of the African Union Standby Force emergency response programme created by article 13 (f)  of the AU Peace and Security Council Protocol which  highlights one of its functions as being facilitation of human assistance to alleviate the suffering of the civilian  population in conflicts areas and support efforts to address natural disasters.

Speaking during the launch of Blue Kunene on 24 August in Oshakati,  Ya Ndakolo said the role of the African Standby Force in Humanitarian Action and Disaster Relief was to prevent and effectively respond to complex emergencies on the continental level.

“It should therefore be clearly understood that exercise Blue Kunene has no hostile intentions of hidden agendas. It is a SADC Air Force exercise aimed at building regional capability that will eventually strengthen the Africa Standby Force,” he said.

The minister said the exercise seeks to enhance the already high level of interconnectedness and interoperability in preparation for rapid deployment which has been developed through other exercises.

The first military exercise concentrating solely on humanitarian aid in times of disaster was hosted by South Africa in 2011, which was named Blue Cluster.  This was after a resolution passed by SADC Air Force Chiefs during the Standing Aviation Committee meeting in Maputo in March 2010.  Angola hosted the second annual exercise in 2013, the Blue Zambezi, followed by Blue Okavango operation in Botswana in 2015.

Similar exercises include Blue Angel in Zambia in 2005, Blue Ruvuma in Tanzania in 2007 and Blue Hungwe in Zimbabwe in 2009.

SANDF’s Colonel Carl Moatshe described the 2011 Blue Cluster in his country as a regional network event that saw military and air forces from different countries discussing issues of regional interest.

“When we met for the first time as Blue Exercises, we agreed that the region needs to harmonise its operations and unite in tackling those humanitarian challenges as a term. As you know, SADC region has been hardly hit by natural disasters that include floods and droughts and in most cases it is the areas that are inaccessible by road networks that are hardly affected,” he said.

He said as per the AU, “we then needed to harmonise training for future, adding that by doing so, countries will be able to assist each other in terms of resources and human resources”.

Colonel Moatshe called on other military wings in the region to come on board.

He said the exercise created an opportunity for the SADC air forces to experience how other countries conducted such missions to check the SADC air doctrine and its relevancy, and it provided a much needed exposure to the young cadres that participate in the exercises.

“Blue Excises are really a brilliant idea that requires all governments and stakeholders attention. It shouldn’t just be left in the hand of the host nation,” he said.

Colonel Gothatamang Gopolang of Botswana Air Force observed that Blue Okavango was hosted at a time when his country was faced with drought and the government was struggling to reach most of the affected areas. Colonel Gopolang said the exercise was a success that the country managed to air lift goods and services to the affected areas.

He viewed SADC Blue Exercises as good initiatives that would help strengthen security by improving interoperability and the ability to drive the combined air operations.

Colonel Gopolang noted that there had been no major challenges encountered during exercises, apart from language barriers.

“There are countries within the SADC region that do not use English as an official medium of communication, which hinders effective communication during joint exercises. For example, Angola and Mozambique use Portuguese as a medium of communication, while the Democratic Republic of Congo uses French,” he said.

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