The AU took over in 2002, switching its name in a bid to shrug off the OAU’s troubled policy of non-interference in member states’ affairs, which allowed leaders to shirk democratic elections and abuse human rights without criticism from their neighbours. In recent years, the AU’s role in combat – such as its mission in Somalia to battle al-Qaeda linked Islamists – has shown it can take concrete action, even if the funding for that mission comes mainly from Western backers. But at the same time, the splits revealed by the 2011 conflict in Libya – when members squabbled between those wanting to recognise rebels and those backing Muammar Gaddafi – showed its disunity and lack of global clout.
Gaddafi’s death also stripped the AU of a major source of funding. Leaders will discuss finding backers for the cash-strapped body at the summit meeting opening today. Mali is expected to be discussed: it is preparing to receive a UN peacekeeping force to support French soldiers fighting Islamist rebels in the desert north since January.
The agenda will also likely include Madagascar – in political deadlock since a 2009 coup – and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where United Nations-backed government soldiers are struggling to quash rebels. The main rebel movement there, the M23 has voiced concern over recent killings in the area that it says seem to be targeting ‘tall men with long noses’.