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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 00:22 GMT
African leaders may sidestep Kenya
By Will Ross
BBC News, Addis Ababa

Mobs in Kisumu
Ethnic groups have been 'cleansed' from Kenyan towns like Kisumu
At the end of the first day of the African Union foreign ministers' meeting in Addis Ababa, a question was asked: "Why has the situation in Kenya not yet been discussed?"

They then debated whether to start talking about the crisis.

It was pointed out that time was running out as the Ethiopian government had invited all the ministers to dinner and it would be discourteous to be late.

A foreign minister from West Africa then asked: "Would it not also be discourteous to wine and dine while Kenya burns?"

But the tricky subject waited until the second day when Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula briefed his colleagues on his assessment of the situation.

Proceedings then swiftly moved to other topics.

This seeming reluctance to discuss Kenya will not come as a surprise to many critics of the African Union, who find it hard draw up a substantial list of the pan-African body's achievements since its inception six years ago.

There have been troop deployments to Somalia and Sudan which have had mixed success, but beyond that the list quickly dries up.

Navel gazing

Current AU chair President John Kuffuor of Ghana had a shot at mediation in Kenya before handing the baton to former UN chief, Kofi Annan - so the AU is to a certain extent involved in efforts to solve the crisis.

Kofi Annan (l), Mwai Kibaki (c) and Raila Odinga chat over a cup of tea (29 January 2007)
Many hope Mr Annan can save Kenya from the abyss

So what have AU foreign ministers been discussing if not Kenya?

The answer? Their own polls instead of Kenya's.

A debate is currently going on as to whether the elections of senior positions in the AU should go ahead as planned, or whether the mandate of current officials should be extended.

This has been complicated by the fact that a recent internal audit of the work of the African Union was scathing.

Some countries are calling for a chance to discuss the report and clean up the organisation before there is a change of guard at the top.

The report described a poorly-functioning institution where senior AU officials in Addis Ababa were bogged down in bureaucracy, commissions were dysfunctional, and there was an unhealthy culture of colleagues not talking to each other.

The AU is often cash-strapped, and the report noted 21 countries were more than a year behind with their payments to the AU, including Libya and Egypt.

The only commission to come out in a fairly good light was the Peace and Security Commission.

Recognising Kibaki

There had been some debate about whether Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, who is accused by the opposition of stealing the recent election, would attend the summit.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula in Addis Ababa (27 January 2007)
The opposition says Mr Kibaki and his ministers should not be at the summit

Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula confirmed Mr Kibaki would be attending, and he dismissed the suggestion that his attendance was principally designed to cement his position as head of state.

"There is no injunction against the president and so he has to discharge his function as a head of state which includes participation in international summits," he said.

The opposition ODM party of Raila Odinga, who was declared the loser in the 27 December presidential election, has tried to attend the AU summit.

But it has been restricted to speaking on the sidelines outside the conference venue.

Jendayi Frazer visits Eldoret (8 January 2008)
Right now you are into a cycle of attacks and retaliation... You are getting into a much more dangerous environment where killing may be the object
Jendayi Frazer
US Assistant Secretary of State

It has called on AU member countries not to recognise Mr Kibaki as the Kenyan president - a fanciful request.

Critics describe the pan-African body as a poorly-functioning club of the elite, where criticism of members is far less common than shows of back-slapping support.

Meanwhile, the head of the US delegation to the summit, Jendayi Frazer, has brought up one of those phrases which will generate much hot air but will be of little help in solving the crisis: "ethnic cleansing".

The US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs was referring to the violence in Kenya's Rift Valley which she witnessed soon after the election.

"The aim originally was not to kill. It was to cleanse - to push them out of the region. Right now you are into a cycle of attacks and retaliation... You are getting into a much more dangerous environment where killing may be the object.

"I think this is about you belong in Luoland and you belong in Kikuyuland. It is a very backward notion about how the Kenyan population should live," she told journalists.

The presidents are already arriving but it seems likely the topic of Kenya will be carefully tiptoed around, leaving Kenyans with not much hope of positive news from Addis, and everything resting on Mr Annan's mediation.

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