The 15th African Union Summit: What were the Issues?

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Since the African Union (AU)’s establishment in 1999 and their first assembly in 2002, the AU has had annual summits; this year’s is its 15th. From July 19-27, 2010 in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, Heads of State and Government convened to discuss pertinent issues facing the African continent.

The 15th AU summit’s theme was maternal and infant health care; however, it was overshadowed by safety and security. The frontline issues discussed by the members at the summit dealt with Somalia, public health, terrorism, and others.

  1. Somalia—On July 11, 2010 in Kampala, bombings were carried out by a terrorist organization known as al-Shabab, based in Somalia, killing approximately 85 civilians. The presence of Ugandan and Burundian peacekeeping soldiers in Somalia was the reason for the bombings. The AU leaders supported a 2,000 troop increase in peacekeeping forces to Somalia to help stabilize the UN-backed government. A key provision to this mission, entitled AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia), is that the troops are strictly there as peacekeepers, not as combatants. The deployment of more troops, however, has come under scrutiny by many leading analysts. Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times indicated the best idea was to withdraw all troops and let the Somali government collapse. With the collapse of the transitional government, al-Shabab will assume authority, and then the militia clans and businessmen will gain power to overthrow them. Even though this plan depends on many “ifs” and “thens” Gettleman believes the new government could be more durable in the long term.
  2. Public Health—The theme of the summit wanted to address and focus on maternal and child health. Jean Ping, chair of the AU Commission, explained that the members agreed to establish a group to monitor the progress of maternal, infant and child health. Secondly, summit chairman and Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika expressed great pleasure when members agreed to prioritize the welfare of women and safe motherhood in their development agendas. Even though these policies indicated forward thinking, Tanya Weinberg of Save the Children stated that the focus on security and terrorism overshadowed the official theme of maternal and child health.

Another highly pertinent topic was malaria. The African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) was established during the 64th UN General Assembly to provide a forum for malaria advocacy, information sharing, and keeping malaria on the global agenda. During the summit, the leaders of ALMA gathered to discuss any progress in the sustainability of controlling malaria and for the removal of tariffs and taxes on anti-malarial imports. Madike Seye, vice president of GlaxoSmithKline, explained that ALMA and pharmaceutical companies need to think of new tools, including a malaria vaccine, to assist with other interventions.

Other specifics instituted during the summit were: an infrastructural development program in Africa, adoption of the maritime transport charter, election of human rights commissioners, and the establishment of a committee on child health.

  1. Terrorism—With new terrorist groups plotting devious missions to protect their country or stay faithful to religious doctrine, the AU set out to fully discuss terrorism. According to Ugandan police, there are 21 suspected al-Shabab members or conspirators in Ugandan prisons. David Axe of World Politics Review explained that for Uganda to be successful in securing its borders and cities, it must do more than specifically target terrorist organizations. He also warned that targeting terrorists and rebels sometimes empowers their goals, loyalty, and destruction.
  2. Other Topics:
  • President Mutharika and the AU asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a suspension on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s indictments. The AU plans to do its own investigation into the allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.
  • Mutharika explained that the food shortage and hunger crisis should be corrected within the next five years. Furthermore, Africa will begin to use more arable land and improve irrigation systems to allow no deaths due to hunger or malnutrition.
  • Lastly, the AU briefly discussed climate change. Africa does not contribute highly to greenhouse gas emissions, but is mostly affected by them. Among the solutions, Mutharika suggested the reforestation of river banks.

The AU has established a foundation of ideas, processes, and developments to move forward, but the hindrance is with the implementation. Because countries have the option to voluntarily enact these ideals put forth, we can predict that many nations will not achieve the goals set by the summit.

One pressing issue conspicuously absent on the agenda was the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe. A cohort of activists entitled, The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, gathered in Uganda to lobby the AU to pursue discussions about Zimbabwe. They asked the AU to confront and pressure the Zimbabwean government to establish major electoral reforms before the next election cycle. The Coalition stressed that the groundwork for free and fair elections needed to be established to prevent the 2008 election violence from recurring. Moreover, the Coalition was trying to dispel the myth that the unity government has actually brought change in Zimbabwe. Even with the Coalition’s loud and persistent voice, the AU did not attempt to tackle or discuss the Zimbabwean crisis.

The United States Involvement with the AU

Looking at the issues discussed during the AU summit the question is: Where does the United States fit in this puzzle? It is a fact the US is heavily involved with training and funding the peacekeeping mission in Somalia primarily for its global war on terrorism. This is the reason why the increase of 2,000 peacekeeping troops bolstered support from Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson who indicated that with a stronger AU force al-Shabab could be defeated. Thirteen House Democrats, in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, compared the al-Shabab situation in Somalia to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which harbored al-Qaida during the planning stages the September 11, 2001 attacks. With the rhetoric used by members of the US government, militarization seems to be the only logical solution. Unfortunately, the US government does not give diplomacy and development a chance to tackle the root causes of the issues facing the Somali people. The US tried a proxy war path against Somalia using Ethiopia and it failed; now it is trying to use Uganda. Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) underscores the fact that the increased US military involvement on the African continent continues to be a hindrance to peace, stability and development; instead, it promotes more dictatorial regimes.

Although the US continues to militarize Africa, it deserves credit for its positive role in global health negotiations. President Barack Obama’s Global Health Initiative, resourced by a budget of $63 billion, and has made health a worldwide priority. With the extra resources, equipment, money and education received, the health goals set by the AU seem to be an attainable feat. (Click here to learn more about President Obama’s GHI).

AU Background

The African Union (AU) was formed on September 9, 1999 through the Sirte Declaration issued by the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The OAU’s main objectives were to expel all remaining traces of colonization and apartheid, promote unity among all African nations, intensify and coordinate development plans, promote sovereignty of Member States, and promote cooperation internationally based on the United Nations’ framework. The AU was created to replace the OAU in 2002; it became a stronger advocate for African economic and political integration into the global economy. In 2002 at the Durban Summit, the AU was launched and the Assembly of the Heads of State collaborated for the first time. The vision of the AU was to promote greater socio-economic integration within Africa which would create more unity and stability, build partnerships between other governments and all sectors of society, especially women, youth and the private sector, and lastly, the promotion of peace and stability across the African continent. Currently there are 53 members; however, Morocco is excluded and the four suspended members include: Niger, Madagascar, Eritrea, and Guinea.

By: Josh Perry

 

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