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Eager to quell its own conflicts, African Union feels overstretched

Uganda takes the lead, pledging troops for Darfur and announcing last week that it would send more peacekeepers to Somalia.

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When it comes to peacekeeping, Uganda has become something of an overachiever.

It's the only African Union country that has contributed to an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Somalia, authorized by the United Nations in February and extended on Monday for six months.

Now, it's sending more. With 1,500 troops already on the ground in Somalia, Uganda last week announced that it will send an additional 250 to the capital, Mogadishu. The AU mission called for 8,000 peacekeepers in total.

For Western powers, Uganda's commitment of troops to Somalia, and last week's announcement by Senegal that it will triple its commitment to the AU mission in Darfur, come at a good time. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, peacekeeping operations in Lebanon and Kosovo, and commitments around the globe have raised expectations that African leaders will sort out African problems with their own troops.

"If Africans have a problem, Africans must solve it," says Maj. Felix Kulayigye, a Ugandan Army spokesman.

There are certainly signs of new vitality or commitment to the notion of African peacekeeping for African conflicts. Pledges received from Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Malawi, and Senegal amount to 12,800 troops, and AU chief Alpha Konare announced last week that the expanded 26,000-man peacekeeping mission in Sudan's Darfur region, approved by the United Nations, could be met entirely by African nations. But a growing chorus of dissent, both among ordinary Ugandans and among political analysts across the continent, suggests that African peacekeeping may be stretched to its limits.

"I don't think this signals that Africa is ready to take on more commitments," says Festus Aboagye, head of training for the peace program at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Tshwane (formerly Pretoria). "This is a dereliction of duty on the part of the international community. You hear this said, that the West will provide funding and other logistical resources, and the African must provide the blood, or if you prefer, the human beings.

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