By Rukiya Makuma
The July 19-21 African Union summit in Kampala was hijacked by the July 11 terror attacks by the Al-Shabaab jihadists. The summit which had been themed on Maternal, infant and child development in Africa was diverted to first discuss the Al-Shabaab latest terror missions.
The theme intended to find solutions to Africa’s most catastrophic problems that have confounded the continent for long. However, the summit had a daunting task of concurrently tackling terrorism and maternal and infant mortality rates alongside other issues.
It transpired at the summit that of the many challenges facing Africa, the quest for peace and security remains the most pressing. The continent has witnessed a number of long term, severe and interrelated crises and violent conflicts. The August 31 2009 Tripoli Declaration obliges states to deal with the scourge of conflicts and violence on the continent by committing resources and pushing forward the agenda of conflict prevention, peace keeping and post conflict resolution. The latest victim of the conflict afflicting many parts of Africa is Uganda which lost 74 people in the July 11 bomb blasts and had dozens of others wounded.
All the AU leaders condemned the Al-Shabaab acts. Eriya Kategeya, Uganda’s First Deputy Prime Minister, said the government was preparing to send more troops to strengthen the peace keeping forces in Somalia. Guinea and Djibouti also pledged to send troops to Somalia to reinforce the Ugandan and Burundian peace contingent.
Terrorism drew such overwhelming attention nearly to the risk of overshadowing the original theme of fighting maternal and infant mortality. The hosting President Yoweri Museveni condemned the terror acts and called upon the member states to reject the arrogance of the Al-Shabbab who dared assault the African Union Flag in Mogadishu. Museveni, who described the Al-Shabaab as agents of mindless, cowardly Middle East terrorism, said they and their foreign backers would be defeated.
Who are they and whose interest do they represent?, Museveni charged.
The Al-Shabaab attacks showed, as Rose Asha Migiro, the UN Deputy Secretary General, said, that no country is immune to terrorism. Migiro thus called upon the AU states to implement the UN Counter-Terrorism Strategy with a global response rooted in the rule of law and respect for human rights.
However, as unanimous as the AU leaders were on terror, so were they on shielding African leaders indicted on terrorism and other crimes against humanity, from prosecution under international jurisdiction. Mutharika, for example, argued that the arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court against Sudan President Omar Bashir undermines African solidarity, peace and security that Africans fought so hard to get. He argued vehemently that this violates the immunity granted to leaders of independent countries and should be rejected. His view succeeded. The AU leaders agreed to oppose Bashirs indictment. This raises quite an intriguing puzzle on their commitment. If the African leaders are genuinely committed to stopping tyranny, violence and conflict on the continent, how do they hope to achieve that when suspected perpetrators of these crimes, some of whom are incumbent heads of state, are being protected under the immunity granted to leaders of independent states?
Prof. Sam Tulya-Muhika, a Development and Regional Integration analyst, says the AU peace hub launched during the summit would be a reconciliation centre for African leaders who want to talk peace. However, he did not say what will happen if some leaders do not want to dialogue on peace. Also nothing was said about African leaders who commit crimes against humanity. This remains a serious lacuna on the AUs commitment to rid Africa of dictators and conflict.
On maternal, infant and child development in Africa, Thoraya Obaid, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, said poverty and illiteracy are major impediments. Obaid argued that most women who die while giving birth do not seek proper healthcare either because they cannot afford the cost or they do not consider it important.
This serves as a strong indictment for Africa because most of the maternal and infant deaths are preventable. Bience Gawanas, AU’s commissioner for social affairs, said every pregnant woman is likely to die during child birth but its the care offered that determines her survival and most African women cannot afford the cost of health care.
A woman in sub-Saharan Africa has one out of 16 chances to die during pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a one out of 4,000 chance in developed countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest risk of maternal mortality among the poor and rich countries.
In September 2001, a total of 147 heads of state endorsed Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5: To reduce child mortality rates by two-thirds and maternal mortality rates by three-quarters by 2015.
Josephat Byamugisha, the head of Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Mulago national referral hospital, separately told The Independent at the hospital that haemorrhage is one of the top causes of maternal mortality and can be caused by
failure of the uterus to contract before, during or after child birth. Other include malaria and HIV/AIDS, obstructed labour,
hypertensive disorders and unsafe abortion. Other deaths are caused by delays in seeking medical care and delayed treatment at the health facility. Some mothers come to hospital when they are too sick for the doctors to reverse their condition. But he also noted that the problem is aggravated by shortage of health manpower.
Byamugisha applauded the AU for giving maternal and infant mortality top priority on the summit agenda.
The Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development Gabriel Opio told the summit that the government would commit US$30 million for reproductive health.
Maternal mortality rates in the country have been decreasing though on a small scale. There are over 4,336 health units from parish level up to district, regional and national level across the country.
The AU theme envisaged a future when the African woman will no longer have to die during childbirth because there is not enough health care for her. She would confidently walk into the labour ward and be sure to come out alive. This is a dream that every government and country must fight to realise.