23 January 2014

Africa: Current Crises Overshadow African Union Summit

At the African Union (AU) annual summit that begins on Friday (24.01.2014) the crises in South Sudan and Central African Republic may sideline the original main theme of food security.

The banner of this year's week-long AU summit shows Africa in its most beautiful colors: in addition to wind turbines, filled granaries and a boomtown skyline, there is also a train, presumably symbolising Addis Ababa's planned light rail project, construction of which has brought traffic in Addis Ababa to a standstill for months, much to the annoyance of residents.

The main theme of the annual meeting of African heads of state and government was to have been "agriculture and food security." But once again it is the continent's crises, such as the one in South Sudan, that will dominate the agenda.

"The goal is to sign the deal as soon as possible so that there will be less bloodshed, and peace could be restored to that country," the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Aisha Abdullahi, told DW a few days earlier. And then on Thursday (23.01.2014) everything happened very quickly: the rebels and the South Sudanese government signed an agreement in Addis Ababa.

The long road to peace

But that's not the end of the matter. Peace agreements in Sudan are generally shortlived, as the director of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, Jakkie Cilliers, points out.

"The problem is, in a country like South Sudan, there are very deep rooted challenges and there are no short term solutions. These problems are going to be with us for many years," said Cilliers. "The African Union is going to have side meetings on these challenges, largely to mobilize the national and African support for their efforts," he added.

Referring to the crisis in South Sudan, AU Commissioner Abdulahi said it would be a summit success to "ensure that peace, stability and prosperity are restored as soon as possible."

The situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) will also be on the summit agenda. The situation there is completely out of control and, according to the French ambassador to the UN, the violence can only be curbed with the help of "psychologists or ethnologists."

Shortly before the summit, Catherine Samba-Panza was appointed interim president of CAR. But the killing continues - and former President Francois Bozize, who is in neighboring Cameroon, is just waiting for a chance to meddle again in politics.

In Addis the AU will demand additional troops after only 4,000 of the planned 6,000 soldiers have been deployed in Central African Republic. The news that the EU wants to send only "between 400 and 600" soldiers, which is far short of expectations, has been received with concern in the Ethiopian capital.

Good governance? That was yesterday

Topping the agenda will also be meetings of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and Africa's Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), the two nominally important reform instruments relating to good governance. Although both were launched with great hopes, they have failed to deliver, due to a lack of commitment.

It is not only the initial summit motto of food security that will be forced to take a back seat, but also the main topic of the previous two meetings, namely the threat of a mass withdrawal by AU members from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The African Union came out vehemently against the prosecution of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his co-accused William Ruto on charges of crimes against humanity.

"The cases against both of them have on the one side apparently been weakened and various concessions have been made," said Jakkie Cilliers. "This is no longer such a burning issue, I think. The ICC will be on the agenda but not as big an issue as it was in the past."

The summit should also take time to look at Africa's success stories, says Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti.

"This year has had some successful elections, for example in Kenya, Madagascar and Mali. This also has happened this year and this also will be discussed," he said.

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