An African Union summit has given the organization more authority to act against unconstitutional changes of power. Coups and conflicts are dominating the summit agenda.
African leaders broadened the definition of "unconstitutional power change" and approved tougher measures to punish violators. The past couple of years have seen a rise in the number of coups and power grabs, raising fears of a return to the era of dictatorial rule.
African Union policy opposes power grabs in Africa, but loopholes have left the organization powerless in cases like Niger, where President Mamadou Tandja last year extended his mandate in a controversial referendum. As a result, while last year's coups in Madagascar and Guinea led to suspension from the organization, Niger remains a member in good standing.
AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra says the new rules will make anyone think twice before taking or holding power illegally.
"The recommendations by the Commission have been endorsed fully," said Lamamra. "[Those include] how to enhance prevention and how to enhance the capacities of the organization to strive to eliminate unconstitutional changes of government, stronger sanctions in case diplomatic efforts aimed at restoring constitutional order fail or get stuck - so I think we have received the kind of strong support we needed to make a difference in 2010."
The political deadlock in Madagascar also commanded attention at a closed-door heads-of-state meeting. AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping went to Antananarivo last week in an attempt to push rival factions to honor two agreements reached last year.
Commissioner Lamamra said it is up to transitional leader Andre Rajoelina to respond to an A.U. deadline for making his views known.
"We need to see it move, and we expect from the Rajoelina mouvance [response], and we will be reporting to the Peace and Security Council whatever contents that may contain," he said.
Sudan and Somalia were also high on the summit security agenda.
Amid fresh reports of deadly battles between Somalia government forces and insurgents in Mogadishu, some describe the Horn of Africa nation as being as big a threat to global security as Afghanistan. But U.N. special envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah says President Sheikh Sharif's one-year-old government is winning the war against extremists linked to al-Qaida.
"When they were put in place by their parliament one year ago, no one bet they would stay one year, and they are here and we would like a fresh look. Those extremists are going nowhere," said Ahmedou Ould Abdallah.
Somalia's Foreign Minister Ali Jama Jangeli expressed disappointment with the U.N. Security Council's continued refusal to send a peacekeeping mission to his country. But he says pledges from African states to bring the A.U. peacekeeping mission AMISOM up to its full strength of 8,000 are giving hope the government may soon have the strength to control Mogadishu.
"We are closer to getting the 8,000 force than ever before," he noted. "More countries are coming to the idea of sending more troops in the very near future to secure Mogadishu and the other surrounding areas."
The session also approved the controversial selection of Zimbabwe to a seat on the most powerful A.U. body, the Peace and Security Council. Zimbabwe had been nominated for the seat by the southern African regional group SADC.
Zimbabwe was elected to a three-year term, along with Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Libya and Nigeria. Others elected to two-year terms were Burundi, Chad, Djibouti, Rwanda, Mauritania, Namibia, South Africa, Benin, Ivory Coast and Mali.