Africa's Dodge

Despite promises made during his trip to Africa last week, President Bush missed an opportunity to nudge the continent's leaders toward a historic decision.

Mr. Bush's focus should have been on a summit of 52 African leaders last weekend in Mozambique. The leaders decided to set up an administration for the new African Union (AU), a much-improved version of the often-useless Organization of African Unity. But they failed to back a proposed peace and security council that would set the authority - like the United Nations - to send troops into the worst African conflicts.

Only 14 countries supported the idea. That's too bad. Bush might have been able to use American leverage to win the 12 more votes needed.

The AU's inaction undercuts a grand bargain with the West that more aid and trade will flow if Africa deals more aggressively with conflicts.

Western nations even offered to help pay for the military force, which would be used only when an African nation suffers an unconstitutional change of government or gross human rights abuses, such as genocide.

Perhaps too many of Africa's authoritarian leaders fear such a council might justify intervention and end their rule. The US and Europe need to work harder to overcome such obstacles and help Africa take more responsibility for its conflicts. Then the US, Britain, and France wouldn't be under pressure to intervene in Africa's many trouble spots, such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Ivory Coast.

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