The 20th summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa on Sunday and Monday was about two things: the new woman in the driving seat at the continental organisation and the conflict in Mali.
South Africans know that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s low-key, self-effacing style barely disguises the reality that she is not to be trifled with. AU officials and delegates to the body’s meetings are learning fast.
She manages time like Christine Lagarde manages money: economically. She does her homework, so woe betide anyone trying to sell her duff gen in a report. She is outcomes-oriented as she illustrated in opening the meeting of foreign ministers last week.
Her message was one of less talk more action: fewer recommendations and more implementation of what has already been decided.
As the summit a year ago showed, when it was dominated by Dlamini-Zuma’s contest for the AU Commission leadership with the Gabonese incumbent Jean Ping, the meeting determines its own priorities no matter what “inspirational” theme the spin doctors arrive at.
Their contribution for the 20th summit was Pan Africanism and African Renaissance.
The delegates decided it would be Mali.
Outgoing AU Chairman, Benin’s President Boni Yayi, lamented the fact that Africa had not had troops ready to help Mali defend its territorial integrity against Al Qaeda terrorists who seized control of the vast north of the country.
He was fulsome in his praise for France that stepped up to do the job and happened to have made the military breakthrough in northern Mali, even as the summit got underway in Addis Ababa.
But the embarrassment at having to rely on a former colonial master was palpable.
Dlamini-Zuma urged the leaders to stand firm against rebels who take up arms, having tried unsuccessfully to make the grade politically. She listed Mali, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Guinea Bissau, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Presidents lined up to commit troops to the Malian cause.
The originally envisaged 3,300-strong force from the Economic Community of West African States became an African-led force of 7,700.
Accordingly, the price tag more than doubled too: from $450 million to a billion dollars.
Western delegates, who’d come to the gathering carrying cheque books, winced.
Their discomfort was slightly assuaged by the African Peace and Security Council determining that the countries of the continent should pick up 15 percent of the Malian peacekeeping bill.
At the time of writing, the summit has yet to endorse this departure.
Western sources are saying it will set a precedent for Africa to pay part of any international peacekeeping operation on the continent. Deciding the exact formula for such payments will be, as the Chinese donors of the impressive AU building might call, interesting.
Mali can be said to have gone into the summit miserable.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was downright miserable.
An agreement on how to deal with the rebellion in the Eastern DRC stalled.
Heads of State were supposed to ink an accord that would give some hope for a settlement.
Instead, there were allegations of bad faith as they headed to a venue in Addis Ababa away from the AU to carve out some form of words.
Congolese sources were not hopeful of any agreement being reached at this meeting.
Jean-Jacques Cornish is the Eyewitness News Africa correspondent.