African Union heads of state were set on Thursday to begin a three-day summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, focused on the deadly crisis in Kenya and the challenges facing the body’s peacekeeping missions.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was expected to address the 53-state organisation and call for a peaceful resolution of the post-poll dispute in Kenya, a country whose stability is seen as key for the region.
”The Kenyan crisis is a serious one and we cannot simply condone what the Kibaki regime is trying to feed us,” said one member of the AU commission. ”The government will not be given a blank cheque at this summit.”
Yet President Mwai Kibaki, who is accused by the opposition movement of defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga of rigging his way to re-election, was set to arrive on Thursday to take part in the summit.
The talk behind the scenes was all Kenya ahead of the summit, but it remained unclear how the organisation would handle the bitter dispute born of allegations of mass fraud and ethnic cleansing in one of its members.
Odinga’s movement has warned that Kibaki’s presence in the ranks of the heads of state would amount to a recognition of his election, despite widespread international concerns over flaws in the December 27 polls.
The dispute has spurred Kenya’s worst political crisis in 25 years and ignited violence that has killed about 1Ã‚Â 000 people in a month.
”There was ethnic cleansing in Kenya. I listened to the victims,” US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer said in Addis Ababa on Wednesday, on the sidelines of preparatory meetings for the summit.
Also on the agenda will be Africa’s other conflicts and how to solve them, as the six-year-old grouping fights to acquire credibility on the international scene and shake off its tag as yet another toothless regional body.
The AU dispatched troops to Sudan’s troubled western region of Darfur in 2004 but has failed to make an impact on the ground.
Since January 1, it shares responsibility with the United Nations for a more robust force known as Unamid, which has yet to fully deploy.
The pan-African body is also struggling to fulfil its pledge for 8Ã‚Â 000 peacekeepers in war-torn Somalia, where only 1Ã‚Â 600 Ugandan troops and a few hundred Burundian troops have been sent.
The Horn of Africa country remains locked in a deadly struggle between Islamist insurgents and a weak Somali government backed by the Ethiopian army.
Africa is attempting to take the lead in solving its own conflicts but it remains constrained by lack of experience and equipment, while the UN Security Council’s permanent members are also reluctant to relinquish control over missions they largely fund.
Also expected to feature prominently on the summit’s agenda will be internal leadership issues, including the renewal of the position of AU commission chairperson, currently held by Alpha Oumar Konare.
Konare has been at the helm of the organisation since 2003 and while he was successful in putting the body on the international map, he has also been criticised for failing to reform the body.
The frontrunner in the succession race is Gabon’s foreign minister, Jean Ping, but a vote on the key position could yet be delayed.
The rotating chair of the organisation, currently held by Ghana, is also expected to change, with Tanzania holding the lead after Sudan’s bid was snuffed out by fellow members’ reservations over its handling of the crisis in Darfur. — AFP