Addis Ababa — THE 19th African Union (AU) Summit opened here on Sunday with a pledge to immediately solve a number of crises that threaten to undermine the continent's peace and security.
AU Commission Chairperson Dr Jean Ping observed in his opening statement to the Summit that a sort of 'Jihadism' was gripping Africa and called for concerted efforts "to check its spread".
The continental body's top administrator mentioned such groups as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia. Security issues are a top priority at the meeting, with leaders focusing on instability in Mali, renewed violence in DRC and the ongoing crisis between Sudan and South Sudan.
Dr Ping described the ongoing crisis in Mali as 'undoubtedly one of the most serious threats to security and stability of the continent' and informed the Summit that the AU was ready to send troops to the troubled Eastern DRC for peacekeeping purposes.
"The AU is prepared to contribute to the establishment of a regional force to put an end to the activities of armed groups," the AU chairperson told African leaders who included DRC President Joseph Kabila and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
Meanwhile, the opening ceremony was coloured with the introduction of the three newly-elected heads of state each of whom made maiden speeches at the Summit. The new Senegal leader, President Macky Sall, announced to the Summit that his country has decided to host the trial of former Chadian dictator, Hissene Habre.
He drew prolonged applause when he announced that he will bend the rules regarding presidential terms in Senegal.
"While I was elected in May to a seven-year term, I will work towards changing the presidential mandate to a five-year term, renewable once; a mandate that would be effective immediately," he stated.
The newly-elected Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, briefed the Summit on the cause and chronology of events that led to the ouster of Mubarak and his ascendancy to his country's top post. "This great revolution was peaceful. This revolution indeed was the expression of the popular will of the people", he said, adding that a new era has dawned in the history of Egypt.
Next was the new Prime Minister of Lesotho, Thomas Thabane, who briefed the Summit on the "fluid transition to power through peaceful elections" in the southern Africa kingdom. The most notable absence at the opening ceremony was the Summit's host, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. It was apparent that no other Ethiopian leader had been mandated to speak on his behalf.
According to the programme, Mr Zenawi was scheduled to host a banquet last evening. The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber A-Sabah, led a team of special invited guests at the Summit's opening. Kuwait is expected to host a pan Afro-Arabian Summit next year.
The AU anthem was played before the start of yesterday's session. Participants also observed a minute's silence in memory of former Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika and former Algerian President and one of the OAU pioneers, Ahmed Ben Bella.
The Heads of State and Government were expected to discuss at their closed session one of the hottest items on the Summit's agenda -- the election of the AU Commission Chairperson. The two candidates in the race are incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon who has the support of Francophone countries and South Africa's Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is strongly supported by countries from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc.
At the 18th AU summit earlier this year, heads of state deadlocked with the same two candidates. Sudan and South Sudan are at least smiling at each other again following a border conflict that threatened to bring the two countries to a full-scale war in April.
Presidents Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir of Sudan and South Sudan respectively met, shook hands, sat together and discussed matters of 'mutual interest' at the old African Union (AU) Conference Centre Building here on Saturday evening.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is the AU-appointed mediator to the Sudanese conflict, was present when the two leaders shook hands.
The two leaders are attending the 19th African Union Summit, which began here on Sunday. The conflict in the Sudan was among items on the agenda of the African Peace and Security Council, which was also attended by President Jakaya Kikwete.
This development comes barely a month before the expiry of the three-month United Nations' August 2 deadline for them to settle their dispute that emanated from the border dispute, unsettled share of oilfields and national debt division. There was no immediate information on the talks between the two leaders although diplomatic circles here believe several concessions aimed at solving the outstanding conflict were made, especially on border demarcation.