Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Has AU shot itself in the foot?

Yesterday, Comoran soldiers backed by the African Union troops seized the island of Anjouan, part of the coup-prone archipelago of the Comoros. Anjouan, a small island of about 300,000, had been taken over by a rebel leader, Mohamed Bacar, in 2001. After flawed elections last year, Bacar clung to power against the wishes of the people.

Many African countries, Kenya included, are grappling wit the effects of dictatorship and flawed elections. From Algeria to Egypt, from Sudan to Swaziland, there are countries where grey-haired men hang onto the last threads of their grey suits paid for by the blood of the people they ruthlessly rule. Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Togo's Faure Gnassingbe (the younger version of Gnassingbe Eyadema, his departed father) and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, recently egged on by Gaddafi, are good examples.

This week, the AU will watch 'helplessly' as Mugabe rigs himself back to power after swearing on his people's rumbling stomachs that the opposition "will never take power as long as he lives". Whether that's an invitation to something nasty, I cannot tell.

Most of the AU troops that backed the Comoran soldiers were from Sudan, no less. Only South Africa's Thabo Mbeki opposed the use f AU troops to topple Bacar. While dialogue of the sort Mbeki advocated has resulted in the endorsement of dictators and losers, it is commendable for its consistency. They did it in Kenya when the general election was stolen, sending Ghana's John Kufuor to mediate between Kibaki and Raila, and doing nothing about it when Kibaki's hardliners sent him home "after a cup of tea". Only the efforts by Kofi Annan, backed by the UN and the wider international community, forced Kibaki to see the sense of taking a soft landing on his way home. Today's stories, however, show Kibaki has a short memory; he does not seem to recall the details of the 50-50 power sharing arrangement he signed in the presence of Annan and Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete, now chair of AU. Hopefully this time, it will take less than the widespread violence that brought him to the negotiations.

I do not recall any time the AU has used its troops for a mission such as they did in Comoros yesterday. The best the organisation does in times of election theft and coups de tat is to wring its hands and watch in amazement. Now that it has shown its muscular hand, let's hope it will use it consistently, beginning with Zimbabwe this week, if necessary.

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