African turmoil casts pall over AU summit

African leaders said on Monday that Sudan and Somalia had not been forgotten at their annual summit, overshadowed by the crisis in Egypt and major developments elsewhere in the region.

While Sudan stands on the brink of splitting and Somalia nears collapse, the African Union summit, which opened on Sunday, has been drawn into the turmoil in Egypt as well as unrest in Tunisia and a political stalemate in Côte d’Ivoire.

But United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, chairing Monday’s meeting, reminded African leaders of the urgency of issues confronting Sudan following a referendum in which the south chose to secede and Somalia, still struggling for effective government.

On Sudan, Ban said all parties “should engage immediately to address all the post-referendum issues”, citing border demarcation between the north and south as well as issues of citizenship, security and the sharing of wealth.

United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson lauded the conduct of the landmark January 9 to 15 referendum in which close to 99% of voters choose to secede.

“The referendum went extraordinarily well, but much work needs to be done in resolving key post-referendum issues,” Carson said.

“If the goodwill that prevailed during the referendum is carried over we will see positive things occurring.”

‘Keep the momentum moving’
Carson declined to discuss whether the major outstanding issues needed to be resolved before July, when South Sudanese leaders hope to proclaim the creation of a new state.

“We think it is important that these issues be dealt with, but we think it’s up to the parties to keep the momentum moving forward in a positive way,” he said.

Bagan Amum, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the former southern rebellion, assured African leaders that “the two sides have recommitted themselves to finalising all the issues before the end of the interim period”.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, South Sudan leader Salva Kiir, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and African Union Commission chief Jean Ping took part in Monday’s meeting.

Also in attendance were South African President Jacob Zuma and officials from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), a six-member East African regional grouping.

Asked whether any progress was made on post-referendum issues at the meeting, US President Barack Obama’s envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, said: “Not yet.”

Descent into chaos
Meanwhile, the UN’s Ban pointed out that January 26 marked 20 years since Somalia descended into chaos with the ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.

“I have been discussing this matter, very, very hard, all the time. It has not been overshadowed,” he said. “The Somali people have been suffering from political instability for almost the last 20 years.”

Earlier this month the UN special envoy for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said the mandate of the Western-backed Somali government must come to an end in August in line with its constitution.

Mahiga suggested a political arrangement between key leaders after that date.

Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, now headed by President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has been unable to exert authority across the war-ravaged country since its formation in neighbouring Kenya in 2004.

Over the past three years, al-Qaeda-inspired insurgents have waged a deadly war to topple the government and have hugely reduced its control of Mogadishu, where it survives under the protection of AU forces.—AFP

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