African summit: Nations focus on conflict instead of agriculture

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The 22nd summit of the 54-nation African Union took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, two weeks ago with few results in meeting the continent’s problems.

The subject was to be how to improve agriculture and food security in Africa. Discussion instead turned largely on the conflicts in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Mali, with other violent instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea Bissau, Egypt, Nigeria and Somalia as background.

Increased agricultural production and corresponding food insecurity received short shrift, with shortfalls from previous pledges being attributed — correctly — to insufficient government and private funding, weak rural infrastructure and inadequate government and private attention to research. Pledges were made to do better, with pleas for more international aid included.

African nations have provided United Nations and AU peacekeeping forces for some of the conflicts, notably in the C.A.R., Mali and Somalia, financed almost entirely by France, the United States and other external donors. The European Union pledged another $34 million for those efforts at the Ethiopia conference.

The African Commission, the executive body of the AU, is headed by a rotating presidency. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn completed his one-year term Jan. 31, to be succeeded by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. The secretary general, in effect the CEO of the AU, is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, one of the wives of South African President Jacob Zuma. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns headed the U.S. delegation to the summit.

The presidents had no original or decisive solutions to propose for the continuing bloody conflicts in the Central African Republic or South Sudan. The C.A.R. tangle could be reaching an end with the expulsion from the country of Chadians and Muslim Central Africans in the south, perhaps 10 percent of the population, who are held responsible for last year’s coup d’etat that installed a Muslim president in power in the Christian-majority country. South Sudan remains an unworkable mix of tribes and regions, where a coherent government has yet to emerge after more than two years of independence.

The AU clearly is incapable of dealing with the African continent’s difficult political and economic problems, in no small part because of its transitory, split leadership. An example of how it does business was the election at the summit of aged tyrant and Zimbabwe President Robert G. Mugabe, 89, as first vice president of the AU.


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