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Image: picture alliance/landov

AU faces acid test

Ludger Schadomsky / cm
January 28, 2015

Boko Haram, Ebola, Central African Republic, South Sudan - African leaders have much on their agenda at their summit this weekend. At the top of the list is the creation of an anti-terrorism force.


At the beginning of the week, the President of the African Union commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, picked Boko Haram as the top issue on the agenda of the AU summit to be held on January 30 and 31 in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.

"We are deeply horrified by the tragedy Boko Haram continues to inflict on our people. Kidnapping young girls from school, torching villages, terrorizing whole communities and killing. A localized group, now we see it further into West Africa and into Central Africa. Time to act is now and to act collectively against this progressive threat," she said.

The Islamist group has continued to unleash terror in northern Nigeria - as well as neighboring countries - even as Africa's most populous nation gears up for the February 14 general elections.

Salva Kiir and Riek Machar of South Sudan during a peace deal signing ceremony in Tanzania.
South Sudan's rivals Kiir (L) and Machar (R) agreed to reunify the splintered ruling SPLM partyImage: AFP/Getty Images

The call by the head of the AU for a "joint effort by Africans" brings back to the table the idea of setting up a fund to combat Islamist terrorism on the continent. Some leaders had already discussed it in September 2014 at a special summit in Nairobi.

At their meeting in Addis Ababa, heads of state will now specifically discuss the deployment of a 3,000-strong regional force to the affected countries such as Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Chad and Cameroon all of whom are expected to contribute soldiers.

Global solutions to African problems?

Following devastating terror attacks by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, as well as in northern Kenya where the Somali al-Shabab militia rages, the question of whether the continent can bring 'African solutions to African problems' has become increasingly acute.

On Wednesday (28.01.2015), Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, the United Nations Special Representative for the Sahel region said Nigeria could "not solve the problem alone and that Boko Haram's terror was no longer confined to Nigeria alone."

Years have been spent constructing the rapid intervention force, known as the "African Standby Force" (ASF); to this day, it is still not operational. That the continental body now wants to come up with the so-called "African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis" (ACIRC), a second rapid intervention force and thus a parallel structure defies logic, Judith Vorrath, an expert on the AU at Germany's Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told DW in a phone interview.

Other observers say there is no need for the AU to hastily come up with rapid-fighting intervention forces, but rather long-term peacekeeping missions.

Differing views

Apart from financial and logistical problems, Vorrath said regional jealousies and mistrust were other problems facing the set up of a viable African security apparatus. For example - it is no secret that there are different views on mandating a possible anti-Boko Haram force between regional power Nigeria and the closely French-linked countries Chad and Niger.

AMISOM soldiers pose infront of an armored vehicle.
An AU peacekeeping force in Somalia (AMISOM) has brought little stabilityImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/Jones

"It is of course a question of how well structured the political and diplomatic frameworks are – and at this stage, I'd have to say the African Union is still not well positioned," said Vorrath. In addition to capacity, the issue of political will is not always guaranteed, she added.

Another issue on the agenda in Addis Ababa will be the ongoing crisis in South Sudan. Although the main political foes, President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, have signed another peace deal in time for the summit, lasting peace in the world's youngest state is still a long way off. Solomon Dersso from the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa said. "If the behavior of the parties thus far is anything to go by, it would be very reasonable to assume that it may not change the situation that much."

Hiding human rights violations

Whether the AU can still establish itself as a serious authority in the case of South Sudan will depend on an AU investigative report on human rights violations there which is expected to be presented to the delegates before being made public.

In mid-January, Ivan Simonovic, the UN Deputy Secretary-General for Human Rights expressed his concerns over the reluctance to debate the report which may potentially have devastating repercussions for President Salva Kiir.

However, there is some good news before the start of the summit. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) announced earlier this week that the Ebola epidemic will only slightly weaken the double-digit growth rates on the continent. Economic costs brought about by Boko Haram's terrorism remain unknown.

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