July 25 (Reuters) – An African Union (AU) summit in Uganda just two weeks after bombs planted by Somali rebels killed 76 people in its capital will for the next three days tackle the crisis in Somalia. [ID:nLDE66O07Q]
But what is the African Union and what can it do?
* The AU emerged from an earlier continental body called the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was set up in 1963 with a charter signed by 32 countries in Addis Ababa. The OAU was considered a bit of an “old dictators’ club” by many in Africa and was criticised for not acting against coup plotters.
* The AU replaced the OAU in 2002 with 51 members and said it would work for closer political integration among African countries. It has set about distancing itself from the OAU by often suspending coup leaders. It now has 53 member states.
* The AU was developed along the lines of the European Union and has 10 commissioners overseeing departments. They include political affairs, agriculture and peace and security. Its founding charter mandates it to work for “democracy, human rights and development”. It also promotes investment in the continent and sends peacekeepers to troublespots.
* Its first military intervention in a member state was the May 2003 deployment to Burundi of peacekeepers from South Africa, Ethiopia and Mozambique. When that mission ended, Burundi became a contributor to AU peacekeeping forces, saying it was grateful for the help.
* The AU also sent peacekeepers into Sudan’s Darfur region in 2004 and, at its height, that force was 7,000 strong. It was replaced by a U.N. force in 2007.
* The AU currently has some 6,300 Ugandan and Burundian troops in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, keeping that country’s besieged government in power.
* Analysts are divided on how effective the organisation is. It often has trouble mustering troops for its peacekeeping missions. It is also underfunded, with many of its desperately poor members never paying their annual dues.
* But analysts say it has grown teeth in recent years, suspending countries that have suffered coups, imposing sanctions, sending envoys to mediate between governments and rebels and genuinely promoting investment.
* The countries that kick in the most money often try to dominate affairs. This is demonstrated by the fact that the personal mission of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi — “The United States of Africa” — has been talked about at AU summits for years, despite many delegates thinking it a laughable prospect. (Editing by David Clarke)