Former Malian president Alpha Oumar Konare spoke of the enormous task ahead on Tuesday as he took over the reins of power at the African Union (AU) for the next four years. The 57-year-old professor of history and archaeology admitted that financial backing and international support for the year-old AU were vital for its success.
Konare said his first priority lay in helping to resolve the many conflicts that are now raging on the continent. He also said health and education needed massive investment.
Developments on the African continent in the past few days came as a reminder of some of the key challenges Africa’s top diplomat faces. Just two days before he took office, Guinea-Bissau's president, Kumba Yala, was overthrown in a military coup. One day later, talks between African leaders in Tanzania aimed at resolving the civil war in Burundi, which has claimed an estimated 300,000 lives, ended without agreement.
Other issues likely to retain his attention include the situation in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which continues to be plagued by insecurity, and the fragile peace processes in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire.
Konare governed Mali as a democratically elected head of state for two terms, from 1992 to 2002. He was elected chairman of the AU at the last summit of the organisation, held in July in Maputo, Mozambique, and replaces the former Ivorian foreign minister, Amara Essy. Officials lined up to pay tribute to both men in a four-hour ceremony at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
“The task is difficult and commensurate with the challenges that Africa has to face,” Konare said of his new job. “We are conscious that we Africans have to deal with our problems. It is not because it is difficult that we have to give up. Nobody will do the work in our place."
A Peace and Security Council is seen as one of the key developments in the AU – which replaces the Organisation of African Unity. It includes the establishment of an African stand-by force – made up of five regional brigades that can be deployed for observation, peacekeeping and intervention. It will also include a “panel of the wise” - five independent African figures - to address peace and security on the continent.
Konare said that funding – the annual administrative budget of the AU is US $43 million, of which US$2.5 million is for peace and security - must be in place to combat crises that emerge. “We need to have regular allocations so that we can deal in a continuous and permanent manner with these problems," he said.