African Union Summit focuses on security situation in Somalia and on improving maternal and child health across the continent
Two weeks after bomb attacks killed 74 people in Kampala, 35 African Heads of State gathered on the outskirts of the Ugandan capital for the 15th African Union Summit. The meeting opened on Sunday 25 July with two minutes of silence to honour the victims of the terrorist bomb blasts. "Our condolences go to the people of Uganda for the tragic loss of lives following that tragic incident," said Bingu Wa Mutharika, chairman of the African Union (AU) and Malawian president. "Terrorism has no place in Africa; it has no place in the developing world," he said. "Let us all condemn these acts."
The Al-Shabaab militant group, which is currently battling the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, has claimed responsibility for the bombings. AU leaders agreed to reinforce the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia by an additional 2,000 soldiers. Furthermore, they decided to introduce tougher rules of engagement for the troops. The AU mission "AMISOM" currently comprises of 6,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi who are stationed in and around the capital Mogadishu.
The European Union (EU) has been supporting African peace missions and the strengthening of relevant African capacities as part of the Africa-EU partnership for peace and security. It has provided €1 billion of funding for the African Peace and Security Agenda and Architecture. Concretely, the money goes into the operationalisation of African Standby Forces, which includes financing of African Training Centres. In April 2010, the EU also launched a military training mission in order to contribute to strengthening the Transitional Federal Government and the institutions of Somalia.
Andris Piebalgs, EU-Commissioner for Development, said in the margins of the AU Summit: "At the end of the day, the solution can not be a military one only, it needs to be political. An important precondition for success is increasing support for the transitional federal government in Somalia. Success does not come with more troops on the ground. This is not only about a military solution. We have to address poverty as well." The European Commission and the Member States have committed €215.8 million for development aid to Somalia through the European Development Fund for the period 2008 to 2013.
Improving Maternal and Child Health
The core theme of the AU Assembly was maternal, infant and child health, with a whole afternoon session dedicated to this issue, at Head of States level. The Summit thus provided an important occasion to focus on the much needed progress towards the Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal, infant and child mortality. Progress has been very slow on both goals, with no hope of reaching them by 2015. Maternal mortality, for example, has been decreasing in some countries, but is stable in most of sub-Saharan Africa, still at a very high level (200 times higher than in Europe).
The President of the host country Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, urged all African Heads of State and government to adopt multiple and cheaper ways of health services. He went on to stress that maternal, infant and child health cannot be improved "without discussing the foundation issues of job-creation, human resource development and infrastructure development".
The AU Summit adopted a document entitled "Actions for Accelerated Achievement of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Development in Africa". The Chairman of the AU, Bingu Wa Mutharika, reiterated in his closing remarks that "the Actions we have adopted, can only be achieved by employing strong commitment and political will for implementation at continental level but also through implementation at national level."
EU Development Commissioner Piebalgs attended the Summit since the AU is one of the privileged partners of the EU. He welcomed the new momentum in the fight against maternal and child mortality and stressed the necessity to progress from shared declarations and plans to dedicated action and delivering results. He further underlined the work of the EU in improving maternal and child health.
Prior to the meeting of Heads of State and Government Piebalgs said: ""Today 11 million children under the age of 5 and more than half a million pregnant woman die in the world every year. Saving these children, protecting the mothers and promoting the right to health for everybody are priority objectives for the EU. We all committed to reduce these shocking rates by two thirds until 2015, but progress is too slow. I am pleased that the African Union puts health of children and woman at the centre of this Summit and that we can speed up the process to meet the respective Millennium Development Goals on time. "
The financial contribution of the European Commission in this area is currently €310 million per year, most of which is channelled through general and sector budget support at country level. The funds go into strengthening health systems and universal access to health care. In addition, the Commission contributes €100 million per year to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). As part of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development, the EU supports research on mother and child health as well as sexual and reproductive health (€20.5 million to date).