ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The outgoing head of the African Union, Benin’s President Boni Yayi, on Sunday criticized Africa’s slow response to the Islamist insurgency in Mali.
France responded to a call for military help from Mali as rebels advanced towards the capital Bamako more than two weeks ago, reversing gains made by the militants linked to al Qaeda. French and Malian troops reached Timbuktu on Saturday.
But Africa is struggling to contribute a meaningful ground force to the mission seen by foreign powers as a counter-strike against the threat of Islamist militants using Mali’s remote Sahara region as a launchpad for international attacks.
“How could it be that when faced with a danger that threatens its very foundations, Africa, although it had the means to defend itself, continued to wait,” Yayi told African heads of state at a summit in Addis Ababa as he handed over the chair of the African Union to Ethiopia.
The African Union appealed to the United Nations for money and emergency logistics to get the regional intervention force known as AFISMA fully deployed. Regional army chiefs have said a total of 7,700 African soldiers would be dispatched.
Boni said the door was open for further troop pledges to help wrestle back control of northern Mali, a vast desert expanse roughly the size of France.
“The list is not closed. I would like to thank countries whose troops are already in the battle zone and, in advance, the other countries whose troops will follow, be they from Africa or elsewhere,” Yayi said.
He thanked Paris for its intervention which has seen French warplanes pound rebel positions and French ground forces alongside Malian troops recapturing several towns.
There has appeared to be some embarrassment among African leaders that the continent was having to rely on a former colonial power to take the lead in the Mali campaign.
AU officials say AFISMA is severely hampered by logistical shortages and needs airlift support, ammunition, telecoms equipment, field hospitals, food and water.
Addressing the AU summit, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he had given the Security Council his recommendations on a logistics support package for AFISMA, a force that had been in the making months before France’s intervention.
The United Nations stood ready to undertake peace-building, governance and security sector reform in Mali “once the regrettably necessary combat operations are over”, Ban said.
Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Janet Lawrence