African leaders to raise funds for Mali crisis

Senegal's' President Macky Sall (left), Guinea's President Alpha Conde and Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan sit during the opening session of the Ecowas summit on expediting an African force to come to Mali's aid, on January 19, 2013 in Abidjan. PHOTO | AFP 

African leaders and Western delegates will meet Tuesday to drum up support for the African-led mission in Mali, or AFISMA, after the African Union requested urgent support to bolster the force's strength.

AFISMA is intended to support the weak Malian army — which has been boosted by the French military intervention — in its battle against Islamist insurgents, who seized swathes of Mali's desert north following a coup last year.

The AU's peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said he remained "reasonably optimistic" about the outcome of the conference and said the AU would seek financial contributions as well as logistical support.

"We have high hopes that we are going to succeed in mobilising resources and mobilising the type of equipment that will enable these troops to have autonomy for several months," he said.

Though attendees have not been officially confirmed, several African heads of state are expected at the conference, along with Western delegations, including from the European Union, France, Britain and the United States.

United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon told the AU on Sunday that he was "determined to do everything to help the people of Mali".

Outgoing AU chair Thomas Yayi Boni on Sunday thanked France for its intervention and criticised African nations for being too slow to respond, in an appeal for "further commitment... for the financing of all the forces."

The West African bloc Ecowas had set out plans to deploy several thousand troops to help Mali retake the occupied north, but the deployment has been delayed by financing and logistical concerns. Chad has also promised to send some 2,000 soldiers.

The AU on Friday gave member states one week to commit additional troops to the mission, and has urged the UN to provide urgent "temporary" logistical support — including transport, medicine and field hospitals — to tide the mission over between its deployment and receipt of donor pledges.

While Lamamra fell short of offering a firm dollar target, a raft of figures have been floated by diplomats, ranging from $420 million to $1 billion.

Analysts say significant support will be required to ensure the mission's success.

"We need to see a substantive commitment," said Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the South Africa-based think-tank Institute for Security Studies.

He said the timing of the conference is "hugely important" and added that he is hopeful about the outcomes of the pledging conference.

"Globally things are tight, we all know that, but this is a priority for Europe in particular. What's happening in Mali threatens the whole west African region, it has pronounced implications for Europe," Cilliers told AFP.

"I think they will reach their targets," he added.

The pledging conference follows the two-day AU summit in the Ethiopian capital that opened Sunday.

The head of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said African nations should lead efforts to help member states in crisis.

"Based on the strong belief that we, the AU and African peoples, need to be at the forefront of efforts to assist member states in need of our help, the AU Commission is holding a pledging conference," she told reporters.

France swept to the aid of the weakened Malian army on January 11 as Islamist rebels controlling large parts of the country's north pushed south towards the capital Bamako, amid rising fears the zone could become a haven for terrorism. The French-led offensive entered its third week with a strong push into the vast semi-arid zone amid rising humanitarian concerns for people in the area facing a dire food crisis.

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