An international donor conference to drum up funds and troops to help the military operation against Islamist militants in Mali opened on Tuesday at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital.
“The whole world has gathered here, it’s very good for Mali,” Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly said.
African leaders and officials, as well as representatives from the United Nations, European Union, Japan and the United States are also taking part in the conference.
The conference opened a day after French-led forces seized Mali’s fabled city of Timbuktu from Islamists as part of an offensive against the radicals who have controlled the country’s vast desert north for 10 months.
“We are all gathered here to express solidarity with the Republic of Mali and its people,” African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in her opening speech.
“We all know the gravity of the crisis...It is a situation that requires a swift and effective international response for it threatens Mali, the region, the continent and even beyond.”
AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said on Monday the African-led force for Mali (AFISMA) will cost US$460 million, with the AU promising to contribute an “unprecedented” US$50 million for the mission and Mali’s army.
However, there is no clear figure for how much the conference is aiming to raise, although diplomats had suggested some US$700 million will be needed for AFISMA and the Malian army, in addition to heavy humanitarian costs.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon warned ahead of the conference there was a “moral imperative for the entire international community” to provide support.
Ban, speaking at the 54-member AU’s two-day summit meeting which closed late on Monday, and which was dominated by discussion on the conflict in Mali, said he was “determined to help the people of Mali at this critical hour.”
A woeful lack of cash and logistical resources has hampered the AFISMA force, set up by the west African bloc Ecowas to support Malian troops against Islamist forces who seized swathes of the arid north after a coup last year.
So far, just 2,000 African troops have been sent to Mali or neighbouring Niger, with the bulk of the fighting borne by some 2,500 French troops, who launched a military offensive on January 11.