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Malian president Dioncounda Traore and his Malawi counterpart Joyce Hilda Banda attend the AU summit/AFP


After anniversary party, African Union tackles conflict

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Mali is also expected to be discussed at the summit: it is about to receive a UN peacekeeping force to support French soldiers who have been fighting Islamist rebels in the country’s desert north since January.

War-torn Somalia, where an AU force is battling Islamist insurgents, is also being discussed, including the thorny issue of a breakaway southern region, which threatens to create rifts between the central government in Mogadishu and neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, both with troops inside the country.

Despite optimistic rhetoric at Saturday’s anniversary celebrations praising the spirit of pan-Africanism, the continent and the 54-member bloc is riven with divisions.

Splits revealed by the 2011 conflict in Libya – when members squabbled between those wanting to recognise rebels and those backing leader Muammar Gaddafi – showed its disunity and lack of global clout.

Gaddafi’s death also stripped the AU of a major source of funding. Leaders will discuss finding backers for the cash-strapped body at the summit meeting opening Sunday.

Africa remains the world’s poorest continent and its most war-prone, but development indicators – including health, education, infant mortality, economic growth and democracy – have improved steadily in the past 50 years.

The continent is also home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund, and has attracted huge amounts of foreign investment in recent years.

Brazil announced on Saturday it was cancelling $900 million (700 million euros’) worth of debt in 12 African countries as part of a broader strategy to boost ties.

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