African Union summit overshadowed by fresh crises

The African Union’s annual summit was to kick off Sunday with another year of crises on the continent likely to upstage an official agenda focused on infrastructure and development issues.

The 53-member state body’s leaders are expected to discuss last year’s coups in Guinea and Mauritania, which were suspended from the AU.

The meeting will also closely monitor developents in Zimbabwe, where a deal on a unity government could ease a year-old crisis, and in Somalia, where old foes are moving closer to a coalition government too.

The summit will be preceded by a high-level meeting on the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where fighting has displaced tens of thousands over the past five months.

The summit’s theme is “Infrastructure Development in Africa” with a focus on transport, energy and investment issues against a negative international financial background.

AU Commission chief Jean Ping bemoaned the current global economic downturn which he said will adversely affect African countries that deserve no blame for the crisis.

“African economies and African people will suffer the full wrath of the crisis for which they are not responsible,” Ping told a preparatory meeting of foreign ministers on Friday.

Ping argued that the financial crisis “would divert the
international community’s attention from funding development to rescuing banking and financial institutions”.

But he also noted that conflicts have deepened Africa’s vulnerability to the global economic slump.

“The continent’s vulnerability is always worsened by potential and open conflicts,” Ping said.

Adding to its woeful list of long-running conflicts, a military coup in Mauritania in August 2008, another one in Guinea four months later, as well as a thwarted attempt in Guinea Bissau further hindered the continent’s political growth.

However, Ping remarked that progress had been made in restoring stability in Burundi, the Comoros, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic, among other trouble spots.

He also lauded the “well conducted elections in Guinea Bissau, Zambia and Ghana”.

However, the bloc has continued to struggle with its peacekeeping operations.

Its force in Sudan’s western Darfur region has been converted into a hybrid mission including UN peacekeepers and the Addis-based organisation is hoping for a similar scenario in Somalia.

Less than half of the force pledged by the AU two years has been deployed and the force has so far failed to contain deadly civil fighting in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

The AU force in Somalia, or AMISOM, currently comprises 3 400 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi and is expected to number 8 000.

Despite numerous appeals, member states are yet to respond with additional soldiers.

After Somalia’s Parliament—enlarged this week to include the opposition and gathered in Djibouti—elected a president early on Saturday, the Horn of Africa country’s new head of state could be one
of the summit’s highlights.

On development, Ping said several infrastructure projects in the continent are to be resumed such as the construction of the Cairo-to-Cape of Good Hope and Dakar-to-Djibouti highways, a regional reference university and electricity networks.

A special session will also discuss the bloc’s governance, a divisive issue among the AU’s 53 members. - AFP


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