THE money and the military required to bring Mali’s dramatic armed conflict under long-term control were being assembled on the last day of the African Union (AU) summit on Monday, but the planned go-ahead for a 4,000-strong African intervention force in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was delayed after South Africa complained of inadequate time to consult.
Security and military issues again dominated an African summit, 50 years after the first one was held, and largely eclipsing the positive economic news coming from many parts of the continent.
About 25 heads of state and government — about half the 54 AU members — were thought to have attended the summit but as usual there was no official tally. It was the first summit hosted by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma since she was elected chair of the AU Commission last July.
"The situation in Mali was very serious but we think the worst is over," President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, the main mediator on Mali, told reporters at the summit in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
French fighter aircraft and 2,500 troops have led a three-week campaign against Islamic insurgents in Mali, driving them back to their northern strongholds near the Sahara desert. France’s military intervention has exposed Africa’s unreadiness to cope alone with major conflicts on the continent but Mr Compaoré joined the general praise for France, saying it had saved the Malian state from total collapse. A donor conference to raise at least $300m for the defence and security of Mali and its Sahel neighbours will be held in Addis on Tuesday. Diplomats were optimistic it would succeed.
"I think the African Union is ready to give $50m and we hope that other partners will bridge the gap," Mr Compaoré said.
The European Union said it would contribute €50m for an African force called Afisma to be deployed in Mali over the next weeks. Nicholas Westcott, the European Commission’s top official for Africa, said he understood the US had pledged a similar amount.
The issues in Mali have been stark and straightforward. Any presidents who disagree about the need to defeat Islamic jihadists and their allies — Ms Dlamini-Zuma called them "terrorists" and "criminals" last week — have been completely silent at this summit.
By contrast, the lack of consensus about how to end the chronic instability in eastern areas of mineral-rich Congo was laid bare yet again on Monday.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was in Addis Ababa to co-sign a framework political and security agreement which will allow an intervention force (NIF) to be deployed in the east, preventing advances by M23 rebels. But the signing ceremony did not happen. Mr Ban said later it was postponed to another day, rather than cancelled, and there were no fundamental differences between the eight states involved: South Africa, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Uganda, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Angola.
"The heads of (states) wanted additional time to consult among themselves," Boubacar Diarra, the AU’s special representative for the Great Lakes region, told reporters.
But several delegates and diplomats said South Africa had been instrumental in the postponement, complaining that it had not had adequate time to study the documents. It was not clear when or where the next attempt to sign the framework agreement would be made.
Among the disputes in the background is that some of the countries involved are bitterly divided.
Experts of the UN Security Council accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the very rebels the NIF is supposed to render harmless.
After the summit’s closing ceremony on Monday night, new AU chairman Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia said Africa was progressing and had six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies. "This shows Africa is on the right track. But in the meantime we have to take care of peace and security issues," he told a news conference, citing Mali.
He confirmed the working figure for the funding of the African force to be sent to Mali was $460m. "We (the AU) have pledged $50m at the moment," saying that was a binding pledge to which individual countries might add at Tuesday’s conference.
The summit was a curtain-raiser for 50th anniversary celebrations in May. Its theme was pan-Africanism and African renaissance, a far cry from most of the debates about conflicts and how to deal with them.
The Pan-African Parliament, which is based in Midrand, was dealt a blow on the last day when a resolution to start the process of giving it real legislative powers instead of purely advisory ones was deferred yet again.
African leaders may find time to take a decision at next May’s summit. Or maybe not.