African leaders meet as continent struggles to control conflicts
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — African leaders begin a two-day summit at the African Union's headquarters here Thursday as the continent continues its struggle to prevent and manage conflicts in member states.
The political and sectarian violence that has killed thousands of people in South Sudan and the Central African Republic have added to instability in Somalia, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau and Egypt, African Union Commission Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
"The pursuit of an African renaissance is severely threatened by violent conflict on our continent," she said at the opening of a meeting of the bloc's Peace and Security Council. The clashes "displace millions, destroy infrastructure and interrupt vital economic activity."
Fighting broke out in South Sudan, Africa's newest nation, last month after President Salva Kiir accused opponents to his rule of trying to remove him from power. Eleven politicians were arrested on suspicion of attempting a coup. The violence, which has continued after a cease-fire was signed on Jan. 23, has forced at least 820,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
The African Union should have brought greater pressure to bear on Kiir, who "fabricated" the attempted coup and has used authoritarian methods to "eliminate the opposition," said Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.
"It was the constitutional government staging a coup against itself," he said in a phone interview from Washington Wednesday. The bloc should have "unambiguously" called for the release of the political detainees as the U.S., UN and European Union did, he said.
Last year, African states decided to renew a push for an African Standby Force after former colonial power France intervened in Mali last year following the seizure by rebel forces of territory in the country's north. French troops have since helped try to stabilize the Central African Republic, where violence erupted in December 2012.
Initially planned to be operational in 2010, the African Union plans to have the force available by 2015 to respond to crises. Unless "a major effort" is made within the next 24 months, it will not be ready, according to an independent assessment carried out for the African Union.
"Despite significant progress towards operationalizing the African Standby Force, significant shortcomings, gaps and obstacles still remain," according to the assessment, which was e-mailed by the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.
"The absence of such a capability will make it impossible for the African Union to provide much needed leadership and for Africans to truly own peace efforts on our continent," Dlamini- Zuma said.
Disunity among African states is also a "huge part" of the failings of continental peacekeeping efforts, said Solomon Dersso, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. Uganda has sent its armed forces to support South Sudan's military, while also contributing to efforts by a grouping of seven East African nations to mediate the conflict. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, neighboring Rwanda has been accused by a UN-mandated Group of Experts of fomenting instability by arming insurgents.
"It's not simply because of lack of logistics that we are seeing a security vacuum on the continent," Solomon said in a phone interview from Addis Ababa.
"Coalitions of the willing" made up of African countries in partnership with external actors will continue to deal with security crises in the near future, Pham said.
"So it will be ad-hoc coalitions each time," he said. "It's not the ideal thing, but it's the reality that's going to happen until pan-African institutions stand up to the promise of their creation."