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AU is Gradually Growing Teeth to Bite Errant Leaders
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The East African Standard (Nairobi)

ANALYSIS

Monday, March 17, 2008

 

By Ernest Mpinganjira

Nairobi

 

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Long perceived as a toothless bulldog, the African Union (AU) appears to be finally shedding this tag in response to attempts by some African leaders to undermine democracy on the continent.

 

In a rare, but necessary show of resolve, AU last week mobilised troops to quell a simmering rebellion on the Indian Ocean islands of the Comoros.

 

Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete and former UN Secretary-General, Dr Kofi Annan. The two were involved in crafting the local power-sharing deal.

 

The intervention by Tanzania, Senegal, Libya and Sudan in the Comoros to prevent Anjouan Island from breaking away comes less than a month after the continental body acted with speed to forestall a descent into full-scale civil conflict in Kenya due to the disputed December 27 presidential poll outcome.

 

The Comoros conflict pits Anjouan leader Mohamed Bacar against President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi. Bacar organised local elections last year and declared himself president of the Indian Ocean breakaway Anjouan Island against the orders of the government and the African Union.

 

Sambi has the support of AU, which is sending in 950 troops to deal with the unfolding crisis.

 

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete is leading the charge to restore order in the coup-prone former French colony, off the East Africa Coast.

 

Tanzania has donated 200 troops, while Senegal and Sudan will provide 600 and 150 respectively.

 

Last month, the youthful Tanzanian leader dispatched his Foreign Minister Bernard Membe to the Comoros to talk the rebel leader Bacar out of his bid for autonomy or risk a military action.

 

Acting on behalf of president Kikwete, whose influence in the continent is growing since being elected chair of AU in January, Membe warned Bacar that he risked arrest by an AU force and trial for war crimes.

 

Such tough talking is uncharacteristic of AU, which has been wont to look the other way as war decimates populations. It is a new phenomenon in African politics that is accustomed to the big man syndrome - what with the likes of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak still ruling the roost.

 

The "big man" will no longer have his way.

 

The only irony in AU intervention is Sudan's involvement in the Comoros at a time when the situation in its western province of Darfur is catastrophic. The humanitarian situation in Southern Sudan also makes mockery of its attempts to restore order in the Comoros.

 

Although Kikwete, like all incumbent African presidents, has not been spared the ignominy of massive corruption in his government, he has proved in the two months he has been at the helm of AU that the organisation was hitherto bereft of direction and new thinking can rise to occasion to rid Africa of endemic problem of poor leadership and political turmoil.

 

Notably, this is the message he sent out to Kenya last month when the country was hurtling towards civil strife.

 

He made the trip to Nairobi to give impetus to international mediation that had begun to totter.

 

President Kikwete reportedly told his Kenyan host, President Kibaki, to agree to work with ODM leader Raila Odinga or risk AU military intervention.

 

Despite Nairobi and Dar es Salaam denying that there was any arm-twisting in the talks between Kikwete and Kibaki, which clinched the peace deal, the latter's sudden shift from hard-line stance to accommodate Raila in a coalition government in a matter of hours told a lot.

 

Against this backdrop, there is the temptation to start believing that AU is beginning to bite and shove aside errant African leaders. Kikwete is driving AU from the "back-channel diplomacy" to "it won't be business as usual" approach in management of African crises.

 

The AU push to drive Bacar out of Anjouan Island attests to this theory. A new breed of young African leaders want the old guard to call it quits.

 

There is an apparent shakedown in AU politics of non-interference in sovereign states internal affairs.

 

It is the first time AU is intervening militarily to pre-empt an imminent slide into political turmoil. In the past, African presidents avoided poking their noses into other countries' affairs. Hitherto the organisation has been involved in peacekeeping, not peace-enforcement, as is the case in the Comoros.

 

AU precursor, the Organisation of African Union (OAU), had a clause in its charter on non-interference that barred African states from intervening in internal affairs of fellow African countries.

 

The curtains are falling on such acquiescence in political rot. When Membe and Libyan Minister for African Affairs Ali Triki met on Sunday with President

 

Sambi - a day after defence and foreign ministers from the four countries held a ministerial meeting in Tanzania over the Anjouan crisis - they were resolute in their determination to stop Bacar.

 

In the communique, they vowed to use force to regain control over Anjouan and have sent troops to the neighbouring island of Moheli.

 

"Any attempt by the illegal authorities of Anjouan to resist the planned military intervention shall be deemed a criminal act and shall be dealt with accordingly," they said.

 

The Comoros archipelago comprises Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli. Since independence from France in 1975, it has experienced 19 coups or coup attempts.

 

The Anjouan leaders responded last week by accusing President Sambi of attempting to create mayhem on the isle. This was after the president threatened to mount sea blockade to cut off supplies and cellular phone links.

 

They also criticised the international community for supporting Sambi. However, there has been no let off for Bacar as AU stayed put in its resolve to kick him out of Anjouan.

 

AU Special Envoy to Comoros, Mr Francesco Madeira, responded to the accusation by saying he had offered Bacar safe passage off Anjouan but the rebel leader turned it down.

 

It can only be hoped that AU's push to restore order in the Comoros and Kenya are experiments, which if they succeed, they can be replicated in Somalia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, DRC, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

 

Africa urgently needs to shed the image of a continent permanently on the brink of a disaster. So will Kikwete be the Biblical Moses to lead Africa out of perpetual abject poverty, hopelessness, misrule and restore hope? The sun rises in the east. Luckily President Kikwete rules a country that is east of the continent.

 

Source: The East African Standard, March 17, 2008