AU to focus on continental conflicts

2014-01-19 14:00

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African leaders will gather in Addis Ababa next week for the 22nd African Union (AU) summit, a conference themed around agriculture and food security – but escalating conflicts in countries including the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan are likely to dominate discussions.

Africa has come a long way towards building up an African Standby Force, first mooted in 1997, but the process has been painfully slow.

Towards the end of last year, President Jacob Zuma called a meeting to discuss how an interim force, the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises, could fill the gap to ensure that Africans found home-grown solutions to their problems, and to lessen the reliance on foreign troops.

As the violence in the CAR worsened in recent months, Zuma and other African leaders called on the French to help – a dependency the AU wants to move away from.

The AU deployed 4?400 troops, which were meant to be reinforced up to 6?000, but they did not manage to contain the fighting.

This week, the UN warned that if the violence was not stopped, the country would face genocide.

Paul-Simon Handy from the Institute of Security Studies said that although Africa has made a lot of progress, “for the new type of crisis happening in the continent you need sophisticated equipment”.

“You need aircraft support, drones, sophisticated surveillance equipment that costs money and that a lot of our armies don’t have.”

He said because a lot of the insurgents move among civilians, unlike in the past when it was clear who the rebels were, troops also needed very specific training.

Another contentious issue on the summit’s agenda is the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The AU is likely to discuss the consequences of its decision at a special summit in October to ask the court to defer cases against sitting heads of state.

This request has not been granted, and the AU is likely to consider its next step.

Also on the agenda are discussions about an African court of justice and human rights, which some want to see set up as a possible alternative to the ICC.

The ICC controversy – and talk even of a complete withdrawal of African countries – came after the court last year compelled Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, to attend their trials for crimes against humanity in The Hague.

Kenya argued that the absence from the country of both leaders at the same time would lead to a constitutional crisis.

Handy said AU commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is not happy that peace and security dominate the stage.

“She wants the AU to drive Africa’s development, and she would like the AU to be less focused on crisis management and rather think in the medium to long term about how to build strong economies and agriculture to feed their people.”

At the AU assembly, which takes place on January 30 and 31, there will be a launch of 2014 as the year of agriculture and food security on the continent.

Other issues on the assembly’s agenda include discussions about climate change and maternal and child health.

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