Africa mulls response to threat
Kampala – African leaders gathering in Kampala days after Somalia's al-Shabaab carried out deadly suicide attacks in the Ugandan capital are expected this weekend to mull sending more troops to war-torn Mogadishu.
The venue for the AU summit was picked long before the July 11 attacks that killed 76 people but the unprecedented bombings were expected to inject renewed urgency in the continental body's approach to Somalia.
The al-Qaeda linked group al-Shabaab who claimed the attacks, the region's worst in 12 years, said they were in retaliation for Uganda's leading role in the AU's mission in Somalia (Amisom).
But instead of being bullied into a pull-out, Uganda looked set to take advantage of the 53-member organisation's summit to muster support for a beefed-up deployment and more aggressive mandate.
Heads of state meeting from Sunday to Tuesday are expected to endorse a decision made earlier this month by the regional body Igad (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) to send an extra 2 000 troops to Mogadishu.
While Uganda, which already provides more than half of the existing contingent, has called on its neighbours to chip in, Kampala looks once again set to contribute the bulk of the reinforcements.
"We are capable of providing the required force if other countries fail to do so," Ugandan army spokesperson Felix Kulayigye said last week in the aftermath of the attacks.
Amisom's more than 6 000 troops are better trained and equipped than al-Shabaab but their mandate has restricted them to protecting Somalia's weak western-backed transitional government.
Uganda has said it was seeking a "license to kill" for Amisom forces to make an impact but the force's defensive mortar shelling has caused many civilian casualties and analysts argue al-Shabaab are trying to draw it into a trap.
"We are quite worried about the consequences of such an operation, because if they are engaged in quite an indiscriminate manner, they run the risk of playing in the hands of the Shabaab," said the International Crisis Group's Ernst Jan Hogendoorn.
Somalia's seemingly inexorable descent into chaos and the rise of a group affiliated to al-Qaeda that has proved its ability to strike beyond Somalia's borders are likely to overshadow the summit's official theme of maternal and child health.
The continent's leaders are also expected to discuss the future of Sudan, where the oil-rich south is due to hold a referendum on independence in January.
Progress of democracy and accountability
Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, whose movements have been under close scrutiny since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him over the war in Darfur, is not expected to attend.
In a year that saw a raft of elections, Africa's top officials and diplomats are also expected to reflect on the progress of democracy and accountability in member states.
Elections in Burundi are being boycotted after opposition claims of fraud, polls in Ethiopia were marred by similar accusations and Rwanda's ongoing campaign has been tarnished by murders and arrests.
The only recent elections that met international standards were those in Somaliland, which is not a state.
The northern Somali breakaway territory has been asking for international recognition for years and hopes that its smooth and democratic transfer of power will boost its case with the African Union.