Donors meeting in Addis Ababa have pledged some 340 million euros to fund an African-led military force to fight Islamist extremists in Mali. Mali's president wants to hold fresh elections this summer.
As in previous years, Africa's trouble spots dominated this AU conference, which was chaired for the first time by the new head of the AU Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Delegates say she was very well informed and ran the conference with discipline and efficiency. Nobody challenged her assertion at the start of the meeting that considerable effort would be needed to resolve the new or recurring conflicts in a number of African countries.
The crises in Mali, the DRC and Sudan were vigorously debated in the plenary sessions and in the corridors of the towering Chinese-built new AU headquarters.
African heads of government are not used to being rebuked by their peers in public. They were therefore surprised when the outgoing AU chairman, President Thomas Yayi Boni of Benin, scolded them for failing to come to the aid of Mali fast enough. Yayi Boni's words of gratitude for the military intervention by France may also have irked many of them.
AU member nations have until the end of this week to decide on the forces they will contribute to the African-led Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). Burundi and Tanzania have already said they will send in troops. On Saturday, defense ministers from the West African regional body ECOWAS said they would raise the number of soldiers taking part in AFISMA from 4,500 to 5,700. Chad, which is not a member of ECOWAS, has offered a further 2,000.
Currently, almost all the African troops active in the battle zone are from Mali itself. However Mahari Tadele Maru, a political analyst in Addis Ababa, says the lack of political will is not a serious challenge, but "the financial aspect is much more acute now." Maru also believes that the African Union and ECOWAS "could have prevented this kind of situation" if they had been stronger as institutions.
Solomon Ayele Dersso from the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa favors the creation of an African Standby Force. The idea may not be new, but would include a rapid deployment capability which could be dispatched to a conflict zone within 14 days of the AU Peace and Security Council mandating its deployment. "And if that capability is put in place, there is definitely a possibility of African countries being able to respond more quickly than they did in the case of Mali," Dersso said.
The donors' conference was opened on Tuesday morning by Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast President and ECOWAS chairman. It was attended by African nations and 60 partner organisations and countries, including the United Nations and the European Commission and its purpose was to secure funding for the African Mali mission.
Ouattara said that at least 718 million euros was required and he put the number of troops needed at 10,000, far in excess of the 3,300 previously mooted.
The African Union has earmarked 40 million euros, Germany has promised 15 million and the sum total of all pledges was 340 million euros.
Dersso says money itself won't be enough and it is imperative that a political process is launched as well. Constitutional order must be restored in Bamako and the grievances of the Tuareg in the north of the country need to be tackled. "The focus on the military dimension of the operation shouldn't overlook and overshadow the most important aspect of addressing the Malian crisis, which has to do with addressing the political situation," he said.
With such concerns evidently in mind, Mali's president Dioncounda Traore announced on Tuesday that he hopes to hold elections in his war-torn country by the end of July.