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AU Critical Component to Peace on the Continent, says US Ambassador

Somalia and the situation in Darfur are among the major issues being addressed by the African Union – and both present major challenges to the organization.

One of those observing how the AU deals with those and other situations on the continent is Cindy Courville, the US Ambassador to the AU. From Addis Ababa, Ambassador Courville spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the relevance of the African Union.

“AU is a critical component. It is the opportunity for the continent to bring together a common view and perspective and approach. Not just to trouble spots, but to how you make progress on democratization, good governance, on how you make progress on investing in people, education, trade, health care. And peace and security are very important. It’s not reacting to, but preventing. And I would say we need to trumpet the successes of the AU,” she says.

The successes, according to Ambassador Courville, include Burundi, Togo, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“The AU has made an incredible leap from the Organization of African Unity. One single focus – decolonization. So, think about the League of Nations and then the UN. We’ve come a long way,” she says.

As for the AU’s role in Somalia, Ambassador Courville says, “I’ve watched this organization sit down and come together on a common approach. They adopted what had been put forth in IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development)…which unfortunately they did not have the resources to launch. And we, as the other members of the international community, weren’t quite convinced it was ready to go. Whatever you may think of Ethiopia’s intervention, (it) has created a unique opportunity to bring about political change. And it is political change that must happen.

“First and foremost, they have trumpeted a political solution. All of the continent has come together on that. We’ve had forward leaning leadership from Uganda to provide troops, which have been successfully put on the ground. And not just peace support missions, but look at humanitarian missions, be there to plan for conflict resolution. So, I’m seeing them really try to move forward.”

The AU has has had a peacekeeping mission in Darfur in Western Sudan for several years. But numbering only about 7,000, it has been difficult to patrol an area the size of France. The United Nations wants to deploy a combined UN/AU force of 22,000 in the region, which the government of Sudan has challenged.

“I think the AU has stepped up to…an enormous undertaking with political will and countries providing troops…. What is critical is a political solution. Also, standing up the hybrid force and with additional UN strategic planning support, as well as resources to sustain the mission. This is what’s critical for us to move quickly with the AU in standing up this hybrid force,” says Ambassador Courville. She adds that the AU must move forward with its nomination of its special representative to Darfur.