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African Union summit: disunity on display

With the leadership of the African Union in question, old powers like France and new powers like China are vying for influence. Will peacekeeping missions and conflict resolution efforts suffer?

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“…we must fully respect the efforts of African countries in resolving African issues independently. In recent years, Africa has steadily built up its capacity to independently address African issues. Facts have proven that African countries are able and wise enough to do so. The international community should provide support and help to the resolution of African issues. China believes that such help should be based on respect for the will of the African people and should be constructive. It should reinforce, rather than undercut, Africa's independent efforts to solve problems. Interference in Africa's internal affairs by outside forces out of selfish motives can only complicate the efforts to resolve issues in Africa.”

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China has not been shy about getting involved in Africa, as the recent construction of the AU's new headquarters -- built by Chinese companies -- clearly illustrates. But while China is clearly giving money in order to secure access to natural resources, it does not give African leaders a lecture on how to run their countries, how to protect civil liberties or human rights, or how to run the public treasury. 

In the end, it may have been “outside interference” by old colonial powers that cost Ping his job. Speaking with South Africa’s Independent newspaper, the Mozambican Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi, confirmed that AU members were turned off by the “interference” of outsiders, and separately, South African and other southern African participants confirmed that intense lobbying by the French ambassador to Ethiopia in favor of Ping made many AU members see him as France’s man.

Normally, AU members would have voted to extend Ping’s chairmanship but, “because we felt this was not just a discussion between Africans – and that is why Ping did not win on the fourth round.” Mr. Baloi did not specifically name France, but did say, “I cannot mention the name of the country, but there was outside interference, not only in the election, but also in some of the dossiers under discussion, such as the question of Madagascar.”

Now the AU is in a kind of leadership limbo. Ping has been given a six-month extension, a leader without a mandate, until another vote can be held at a summit in June or July. With an ongoing election crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with growing tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, with an increasingly bloody war and killing famine in Somalia, with electoral troubles brewing in Senegal, and the challenges of restoring peace in Libya and Egypt, this is a time when Africa could use a unified voice.

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