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Will the African Union help Somalia?

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As African leaders met for the second and last day of the African Union (AU) Summit Tuesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, there were many questions about unfinished business and what they have actually accomplished.

Chief among them is the shaky AU peacekeeping force planned for war-ravaged Somalia. While a few African countries – Uganda, Nigeria, and Malawi – have pledged 2,500 of the 8,000 requested troops, most remain silent.

South Africa, a regional power normally willing and able to send peacekeepers, gave a definite "no" this week, citing its own overstretched military, the lack of Western donor support, and the lack of a workable peace plan.

Its concerns underscore the stumbling blocks for the AU as a whole. And with multiple peacekeeping missions throughout the continent, the AU may be reaching the limits of its capacity to handle more conflicts.

"I get a sense that troop-contributing countries want a better understanding of the situation in [Somalia] before sending their troops," says Matt Bryden, an analyst for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi. Even if countries do soon commit to sending 8,000 troops, Mr. Bryden says that may not be enough. "With 8,000 peacekeepers, they'll be hard-pressed to provide airport and VIP protection, let alone protecting the cities," he says. "It's not realistic."

Top AU diplomat Alpha Konare chastised African countries Monday. "We cannot simply wait for others to do the work in our place," he said, warning of chaos in Somalia if peacekeepers aren't deployed soon.

In theory, the AU should behave like the European Union (EU), with common policies on trade, development, and defense. African nations should come to each other's aid, to help sort out conflicts, and to provide peacekeeping forces as needed by their fellow governments. But the AU already has missions in Ivory Coast, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name a few.


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