Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) – The birthday party didn’t go according to plan. It was billed as a summit to celebrate 50 years of the African Union and its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, and to promote an African Renaissance and Pan-Africanism. Then reality intervened in the form of a long list of conflicts in Central African Republic, Congo-Kinshasa, Guinea Bissau, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan.

Delegates to the AU summit in Addis Ababa on 27-28 January were frustrated that crisis talks on conflicts dominated the meetings at a time when Africa’s development prospects – its economies are projected to grow at an average 6.6% this year – are at their strongest since the independence years when the OAU was founded.

The new Chairwoman of the AU, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, shares these worries. She wants economic and social development to dominate the AU’s work, and the organisation to push forward plans for regional economic integration, mobilising funds to build roads and railways across the continent as well as promoting education. On 13 January, Dlamini-Zuma shared a platform at the AU headquarters with African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka and the Economic Commission for Africa’s Executive Secretary Carlos Lopes to launch a coordinated development plan for the next 50 years.

Details of the plan are to be released at the next AU summit, also in Addis, in May, which will be something of a cultural jamboree as well, with some of Africa’s most renowned musicians, writers and artists expected to join the 50-year celebrations.

Although the urgency of the Mali conflict dominated the summit, the AU’s response was faster and more business-like than in many previous crises. ‘We cannot over-emphasise the need for peace and security,’ Dlamini-Zuma told the summit and warned of a growing number of rebel movements trying to oust elected governments. She also called for governments to move faster to launch the planned 30,000-strong African standby force which is to be deployed to protect civilians and defend legitimate govermments.

According to the outgoing Chairman of the AU Assembly, Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi, the absence of such a force made the French intervention the only available option to save the Malian state. Others agreed privately, but Yayi used his valedictory speech to take a swipe at some of the hesitant African leaders: ‘How could it be that when faced with a danger that threatened its very foundations that Africa continued to wait?’
He also suggested that the AU should revisit its founding charter and recast the roles of the chair of the AU Assembly (of Heads of State), chair of the AU Commission (Dlamini-Zuma’s current role) and the Commissioner for Peace and Security, Algeria’s Ramtane Lamamra. Certainly, the AU’s reaction to the Mali crisis was initially a confused chorus: Yaya as chair of the AU Assembly had been calling countries from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to help the Malian government but Dlamini-Zuma and Lamamra kept schtum until the AU’s Peace and Security Council met three days after the French operation started.

Yayi’s remonstrations may have upped the bidding on the contributions for the Mission internationale de soutien au Mali (Misma) at a special conference after the summit on 29 January. It raised US$455.53 million with the AU itself contributing $50 mn. out of its members’ dues. That was to send a signal about the AU’s commitment to the Mali plan, and also perhaps to heal the rifts between it and the Economic Community of African states, whose member countries are contributing the bulk of fighting forces.

Other pledges came from Japan ($120 mn.), the United States ($96 mn.) and the European Union ($67 mn.). Then South Africa doubled its pledge to $10 mn. and added another $10 mn. for humanitarian needs. Nigeria, whose Major-General Shehu Usman Abdulkadir is commanding the mission, is providing 900 combat soldiers and 300 Air Force personnel at a deployment cost of some $32 mn., it says.

Nigeria, whose President Goodluck Jonathan was a ubiquitous figure at the summit’s key meetings, will send another $7.5 mn. for security sector reform and humanitarian needs. Total African troop commitments to the Mali campaign are just under 6,000 with the biggest single contingent of 2,000 coming from Chad. All this still falls far short of the 8,000-strong force that Ecowas chairman and Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara said would be necessary along with some $950 mn. in funding.

Requirements on the ground will be dictated by the shape of the mission in Mali, which is fairly unclear so far. French forces, with air support, seem set to chase after the jihadist fighters into the mountainous north-east of Mali, leaving Malian soldiers and the West African forces to consolidate control across the North. The big threat is that these forces will be seen as an easier target for jihadist insurgents than the better armed and high-tech French forces.

One plan is for the United Nations to join a joint peacebuilding mission in Mali alongside the Ecowas soldiers, similar to the operations it ran in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. If that UN mission could draw on the organisation’s assessed contributions for peacekeeping, it would greatly reduce the burden of the West African troop-contributing countries – even if most of their soldiers were simply re-hatted as UN peacekeepers.

Elsewhere, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s innate caution on Mali has attracted some criticism for holding up the mission. In Addis, his team was blamed when an announced signing on 28 January of a deal between countries in the Southern African Development Community, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region and the UN was abruptly cancelled. The plan was to establish a Neutral Intervention Force along Rwanda’s border with Congo-Kinshasa under the auspices of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (Monusco).

UN officials billed the signing as a breakthrough. But Southern African countries, notably Mozambique and South Africa, which would contribute batallions to the border force, objected to some provisions in the framework agreement. South Africa said it received some amendments to the framework from the UN on 26 January and didn’t have enough time to assess them.

We hear Ban Ki-moon suggested that Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Congo-Kinshasa’s Joseph Kabila and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni could sign the agreement without the other five leaders. Museveni, an old ally of South Africa, said they should all wait until there was consensus. Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told Africa Confidential: ‘Some countries are not ready which is fine. They need more time to carefully look at the framework… Rwanda is ready when everyone else is ready.’

The deal should benefit both sides of the dispute (AC Vol 54 No 1, Ailing and failing): Congo-Kinshasa’s Kivu provinces would be better protected against rebel forces; and Rwanda could claim that it has tried seriously to tackle the militia problem (that the UN expert panel accused it of fomenting) and try to renegotiate the unblocking of suspended aid programmes.

Source: Africa Confidential