Outgoing African Union chairman Thomas Boni Yayi told African leaders that their response to the conflict in Mali had been too slow, and thanked France for taking the lead in its military intervention in the country.
Boni Yayi, Benin’s president, told leaders on Sunday at the opening of the 54-member AU summit that the body’s response had taken too long, and that France’s action was something “we should have done a long time ago to defend a member country”.
The ongoing conflict in Mali is likely dominate the African Union summit which has started in Addis Ababa, as regional leaders try to speed up the deployment of an African force there.
Following a security meeting on Friday, the AU resolved to bolster the strength of the African-led force in Mali, or AFISMA, and gave member states one week to commit troops to the mission.
“We definitely know, based on the first assumptions… that the force size will have to be significantly augmented,” AU peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters after the security meeting.
Lamamra said AFISMA’s strength should be increased “to better respond to the needs on the ground,” but declined to give numbers.
The mission is intended to support the weak Malian army, which has been boosted by the recent French military intervention, in its battle against insurgents who seized swathes of Mali’s desert north following a coup last year.
“So far only about 1,000 of those African soldiers are in Mali, and most of them are nowhere near the front line,” said James Bays, Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor, reporting from Addis Ababa. “So there will be questions about the speed of deployments, with some observers wondering if African nations are waiting until the French finish the big battles.”
The United States announced on Saturday that it would send tanker aircraft to refuel the French jets flying missions over Mali.
Sudan and DRC
Also high on the summit’s agenda on Sunday is the slow progress on oil, security and border deals between Sudan and South Sudan.
South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and his northern counterpart Omar al-Bashir met Friday for face-to-face talks ahead of the summit. The two leaders signed a series of agreements in September that have yet to be implemented.
Kiir blamed the delay on Khartoum after meeting with Bashir. “We have upheld our side of these agreements. Sudan has not,” he told the AU security council.
Other key issues remain unresolved, including the contested Abyei region between the two countries.
Diplomats said leaders were also expected to discuss recent unrest in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where M23 rebels took over the key town of Goma before pulling out.
They have since agreed to negotiations with the Congolese government, but the talks have been dragging.
The AU summit, officially themed “Pan Africanism and African Renaissance”, will kick off the 50th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor to the AU.
African leaders are also set to select a new AU chair to replace Yayi, the outgoing chairman; the post rotates each year on a regional basis. Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn is slated to replace Yayi, according to Ethiopia’s foreign ministry.