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African Union summit burdened with U.S. imperialism’s role in Somalia

Published Aug 1, 2010 11:59 PM

This year’s African Union summit, which was held in the East African state of Uganda on July 25-27, came under tremendous pressure from the U.S.-supported government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The head of state sought to turn the entire continent’s attention toward implementing Washington’s foreign policy objectives in Somalia.

The Ugandan capital of Kampala was hit by a series of explosions on July 11 that killed 76 people. The Somali resistance organization al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying that the operation was carried out in response to the killing of civilians by the African Union Mission (AMISON) peacekeeping forces in Somalia. These forces are largely composed of troops from Uganda and Burundi.

Even though the theme of the summit was maternal and child health, Museveni in his opening address said that the primary concern for African states is to fight against al-Shabab and other Islamic resistance movements on the continent. “Let us work in concert to sweep them out of Africa,” Museveni said on July 25. (Associated Press)

Museveni has pledged that Uganda will deploy another 2,000 troops to Somalia in an attempt to prop up the weak Transitional Federal Government, which is funded and politically supported by the United States. The West African state of Guinea announced that it will send an 850-member battalion to Somalia as well.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder attended the AU summit as an envoy of the Obama administration. He told the African leaders that the administration would maintain its existing support for the AMISOM forces in Somalia.

Since 2007, under both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, the United States has supplied more than $176 million to AMISOM. There are plans in the works to provide additional “enhanced pre-deployment training” to both Ugandan and Burundian troops operating inside Somalia.

European Union officials at the summit said they would maintain their current allotment of $750 monthly salaries paid to the AMISOM soldiers and that if there was an increase in troops to Somalia, funds could be found to cover the cost.

Meanwhile, in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, it was reported that eight people were killed over the weekend of July 23-25. The Islamic resistance movement controls most of Mogadishu and has placed the TFG in a very precarious situation.

As a stark illustration of the crisis facing the U.S.-backed TFG, several members of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s personal guards defected to al-Shabab just days prior to the opening of the AU summit. The Somalia leader met with Johnnie Carson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, on the sidelines of the Kampala gathering on July 26.

Despite calls from Museveni, the Obama administration and the EU to focus more attention on the situation in Somalia, the Horn of Africa nation of Eritrea warned against the escalation of the conflict through the deployment of additional troops. Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh emphasized during pre-summit meetings that there needed to be dialogue between the conflicting parties in Somalia rather than reliance on military measures.

“We believe that military involvement cannot bring a peaceful solution,” Saleh said. “Priority should be given to a political solution” that would require talks involving al-Shabab, Hizbul Islam, the TFG, and breakaway areas Puntland and Somaliland. (rebelnews.org, July 25)

Saleh also rejected allegations made by the U.S. government that Eritrea was supporting al-Shabab. On July 20 U.S. Congressperson Ed Royce sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggesting that Eritrea be placed on the list of states designated as “terrorists.”

In the same article the Foreign Minister dismissed Royce’s claim: “This is an allegation that doesn’t have any evidence. We haven’t supported the al-Shabab.”

Even though the United States has created the Africa Command (AFRICOM) and increased military intervention in Africa, AU Commission Chair Jean Ping conveyed in a speech to the summit that the security situation on the continent was still fragile.

“[The year] 2010 has been declared the ‘Year of Peace and Security in Africa.’ On the ground, we cannot but admit the persistence of certain conflicts, the eruption of crisis linked to elections and the resurgence of the scourge of coup d’etat,” Jean Ping said during his opening speech at the summit. (Xinhua News Agency, July 25)

Gender issues, health care need greater attention

This year’s AU summit was initially designed to address the pressing need for increased attention to the role of women within society and the general public health within member-states. The overall theme of the gathering was “Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa,” reflecting the commitments made at the AU summit in Maputo, Mozambique, in 2006.

Nonetheless, women’s organizations attending the pre-summit meetings in Kampala expressed concern over the slow pace of change related to gender issues and health care. According to Bineta Diop, the executive director and founder of Femmes Africa Solidarite, “When you look at reality on the ground, a lot still needs to be done.” (Voice of America, July 24) The women’s rights organization is concerned with the impact of war and human rights violations

Diop continued, “We are appreciative that [the AU summit is] sitting down and saying ‘let’s review and see what didn’t work.’ I think that takes political will.”

She urged summit participants to take women’s concerns more seriously: “Even in issues of peace and security and terrorism, it is women who bear the brunt and pick up the pieces.” Diop emphasized that women make up half of the continent’s population, and should be fully engaged in developing solutions to national problems.

In October the African Union will launch the “Decade of Women” from 2010-2020. During that time numerous projects will be initiated on the continent that are designed to raise the standard of living and quality of life for women and to further empower them within society.

In addition, a call was made for African states to increase funding to continue the battle against HIV/AIDS. Global Fund Executive Director Michel Kazatchkine said from the sidelines of the summit that “We expect at least a two-paragraph declaration calling for the replenishment of funds for the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.” (Afriquejet.com, July 26)

In the same article, Michel Sidibe, head of the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS, expressed concern about a decrease in funding resulting from the impact of the economic crisis in the industrialized countries. “It is the first time we are experiencing the decline in HIV/AIDS [funding]. The gap is huge, from US$26 billion to US$16 billion mobilized this year. We need an extra US$10 billion every year to finance the care.”

Singling out the United States, Jeffrey Sachs, a senior adviser to the United Nations director on Millennium Development Goals, said in the same article, “It strikes me as hard to understand that they cannot increase their funding to HIV/AIDS through the Global Fund when bankers walk away with US$30 billion bonuses untaxed. ... It is even harder when they spend US$100 billion to fund the war in Afghanistan, when they say they find no money for HIV/AIDS funding.”