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From rapid military intervention to connecting Cape to Cairo by road, the influence of SA is there for all to see, writes Peter Fabricius.
Johannesburg - If it wasn’t obvious before, it was very evident at this week’s AU summit in Addis Ababa that South Africa is increasingly taking the lead in continental affairs.
From rapid military intervention in continental crises, through getting elected on to the AU Peace and Security Council, to connecting the Cape to Cairo by road, South Africa has put its stamp firmly on the gathering of the continent’s leaders.
Not to mention – and in this context, of course, one shouldn’t – the presiding presence of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the chairwoman of the AU Commission.
The theme of the summit was agriculture and food security. But, as usual, security crises overshadowed that topic, especially the fighting in South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Dlamini Zuma explained at the end that agriculture and food security would instead be discussed at the next summit in June.
Because conflicts dominated the summit, the burning question of how to resolve such crises was also uppermost in discussion.
President Jacob Zuma is the champion of the most important decision made at the summit, to address such crises by “operationalising” the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC).
This rapid-response mechanism, adopted in principle at an AU summit last May, will enable volunteer countries to combine their military forces in “coalitions of the willing” to quickly tackle security crises in Africa.
They would use their own forces and their own money to ensure the response was as rapid as possible.
ACIRC was conceived in the embarrassment which Zuma and other leaders felt about Africa having to depend on France to rescue Mali from being overrun by jihadists and separatists a year ago.
That was because Africa was too slow in getting boots on the ground there.
Since then, France has intervened again in the CAR, and again because African countries were too slow in reacting.
The AU formally adopted plans in 2002 to create an African Standby Force (ASF) to do that job.
But the ASF is taking too long to establish because it is so large and complex.
In the meantime Africa has had to “stand by” – helplessly – while France intervened in Mali and the CAR because neither the AU nor its sub-regional bodies were able to activate in time to influence the outcome of events.
At a summit last May the AU decided to create ACIRC, a name as unwieldy as the forces it contemplate are supposed to be quick and nimble.
Zuma called a summit last November of volunteer countries where he, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete and Chad’s Idriss Deby all pledged a battalion each to the new force.
On Friday, ACIRC was “operationalised”, though not without some resistance from other countries, including Nigeria and Cameroon. Nigeria’s deputy foreign minister, Nuruddeen Mohammed, said Nigeria was by no means “allergic” to military intervention to resolve crises and at the moment had troops in peacekeeping forces in places like Darfur.
But he said he had spoken in the debate on Friday to call for proper supervision of military forces deployed under ACIRC.
The draft proposal states that the AU’s Peace and Security Council must authorise such deployments.
But after that, the draft proposal would have left it to the countries actually participating in a particular mission to run the operations.
Nigeria, Cameroon and others persuaded the summit that the Peace and Security Council and the AU Assembly of heads of state should continue to supervise the deployments throughout.
South Africa conceded these points in the interests of getting the mechanism up and running, and also because it was elected on to the Peace and Security Council at the summit, so could influence its decisions on deploying ACIRC missions.
So far, Algeria, Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Niger, South Africa, Sudan, Mauritania, Tanzania and Uganda are listed as having volunteered for ACIRC, though Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta supported it in the summit. And South African officials said Ghana and Liberia had also volunteered.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele said ACIRC could now go into action almost immediately.
Meanwhile, it emerged that South Sudan had asked ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to help mediate in the civil war that erupted in South Sudan on December 15 between followers of President Salva Kiir and those of his former vice- president, Riek Machar.
The fallout has degenerated into tribal warfare between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer people.
The Intergovernmental Authority for Development (Igad), representing north-east African states, mediated a fragile ceasefire between the warring parties on January 23, though some fighting continued.
Kiir’s government has released seven of the 11 political leaders of Machar’s faction which it detained and came under pressure at the summit to release the remaining four. South Sudan’s vice-president, James Igga, said at the AU summit that the four would be released once legal processes had been completed.
He acknowledged for the first time, however, that the four detainees should be at the negotiation table.
Uganda’s Museveni is coming under some pressure to withdraw the military forces he sent in to support Kiir, though the AU Peace and Security Council fully endorsed Kiir’s right to call on Uganda for help.
Sources said Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir had asked Kenyatta to persuade Museveni to pull his troops out of South Sudan. Kenyatta was non-committal, but evidently believes that the Ugandan troops help to maintain leverage on Kiir to release the remaining detainees.
“Kiir knows that if the Ugandans go, Juba will be overrun in two days,” an official said.
On the CAR, the summit called for more troops and logistical support for the AU peacekeeping mission Misca, which now has about 4 000 troops in the country, but is eventually supposed to have 6 000, according to UN deputy secretary- general Jan Eliasson.
There are also about 1 600 French troops and the EU will send another 500-plus by the end of February.
The current chairman of the AU Peace and Security Council, Alpha Conde, president of Guinea, announced after the council’s meeting at the summit that Algeria had offered aircraft to fly in extra Misca troops. Conde also appealed to Angola and South Africa to provide an airlift.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the request would be considered if it was formally conveyed, but also noted that South Africa had no spare airlift capacity.
South African officials said it was unlikely South Africa would get involved in the CAR again because of the “baggage” it carried after its previous intervention, which ended in 15 soldiers being killed in a clash with Seleka rebels as they took over the country last March.
There was some controversy over the idea of “re-hatting” Misca as a UN peacekeeping mission, as Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso and perhaps other contributors to Misca are reportedly opposed.
But CAR’s newly-elected interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, wants a UN force and Eliasson said the UN would send an assessment mission to CAR next month to decide if a UN force was necessary.
Leaders also met on the summit margins to report progress on the implementation of a major framework agreement reached last February by the DRC government, its neighbours and the wider international community to try to end the chronic instability in eastern DRC once and for all.
Under the agreement, South African, Tanzanian and Malawian troops formed a Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) under UN command which defeated the Rwanda-backed M23 rebels in eastern DRC last November.
The next military task is for the DRC army and the FIB to go after the FDLR and ADF-Nalu rebels. Patrick Karuretwa, defence and security adviser to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, said his government wanted them to go after the FDLR first, but had been told that the joint DRC-UN force was instead pursuing ADF-Nalu first, because it had been most active.
Zuma, as head of the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative under Nepad – Africa’s main development programme – presented a progress report on the particular priority infrastructure programme he is championing, the north-south corridor or spine, that is designed to span the continent.
Officials said the corridor was happening, as Zuma was able to report the construction of two “missing links” of road north and south of Sudan.
Zuma also presented to his peers in the African Peer Review Forum, the third progress report on the implementation of South Africa’s National Plan of Action, which was adopted in 2007 after South Africa had been peer-reviewed.
In its response to Zuma’s report, the head of the African Peer Review Mechanism panel which is supervising South Africa, Amos Sawyer, was mostly complimentary, though he also highlighted South Africa’s familiar problems in implementation of programmes and service delivery and managing xenophobia.
As another panel member, Akere Muna, pointed out, the first review of South Africa back in 2006-2007 had warned of the danger of xenophobic violence, but then president Thabo Mbeki had not heeded it.
Sawyer acknowledged that South Africa was now addressing xenophobia.
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