African Union Chairman Alpha Omar Konare is calling for immediate action to calm tensions in Kenya, warning that ethnic clashes between warring tribes could degenerate into another Rwanda-like genocide. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from Addis Ababa, where Konare addressed a meeting of African foreign ministers preparing for this week's AU summit.
Konare said Sunday he had received a message from Kofi Annan, who is trying to broker a deal that would end the weeks of clashes that have killed more than 700 Kenyans and displaced at least a quarter of a million.
Konare did not elaborate on the contents of Annan's message. But the former U.N. secretary-general told reporters Saturday he had seen systematic human rights abuses during a visit to a Kenyan region where tribal fighters are said to be attacking each other with bows and arrows.
Speaking in French to African ministers preparing for this week's AU summit, Konare said the continent must not turn a blind eye when tragedy is unfolding around them.
"We are talking even of genocide, after Rwanda," said Konare. "Are we going to sit hands folded when everyone is talking about genocide. What will be the lesson of Rwanda? Today it is the responsibility of the united African Union to face this situation."
Konare cautioned the two sides, however, to settle their dispute without resorting to a power sharing formula. He suggested that power sharing would only lead to more trouble.
"The solution does not lie only in power sharing, as if power is like a cake that should be shared, no," he said. "If the democratic process has to be followed to the end, and the final end should be sharing of the cake, then we shall never have peace because there will be always be unsatisfied and dissatisfied parties."
Pre-summit discussions have been dominated by a report by a high-level panel appointed last year to study the African Union's operations. The panel, led by former U.N. Undersecretary General Adebayo Adedeji , was highly critical of the organization's top leadership. Among other things, the 200-page report described the relationship between the chairman and other commissioners as "dysfunctional."
African diplomats attending the AU meetings say Konare reacted angrily to the report. In his speech, he referred to the audit only in passing. But made clear he will not run for re-election to his post, and said he is fed up with an organizational structure that makes it impossible to succeed.
"I wish that the new commission should succeed, that a new chairperson should succeed, and we need to establish the necessary conditions, but within the present rules this is not possible," said Konare. "And I say it frankly, and I say it with all ease, that it doesn't concern me because I've said very clearly that I'm not a candidate and I don't want my mandate renewed."
Several candidates have been mentioned as possible replacements for Konare. Among them are Gabon's foreign minister and former U.N. General Assembly President Jean Ping, Sierra Leone's Abdulai Conteh, and Zambia's ambassador to the United States Inonge Mbikusita Lewanika.
Several delegates at the meeting say the election might be postponed, as it has been in the past, effectively leaving Konare in his present position. Ethiopia's Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin told VOA the criticisms of the high-level panel were not aimed personally at the chairman, but at a weak system.
"I don't believe the issue is personal," said Mesfin. "It has to do with the articulation of the competencies of the various organs of the union. That's why it is very important to streamline them, and see that a commission which would be vibrant and responsible to handle the challenges we are facing."
The ministers' meetings continue Monday, with discussions expected to touch on the conflicts and political turmoil in three of Ethiopia's neighbors - Somalia, Sudan and Kenya.
African heads of state and government arrive later in the week for three days of talks. Security concerns prevent the release of a list of possible attendees, but officials expect 40 African leaders to attend the gathering. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will address Thursday's opening summit session.