30 January 2018

Africa: China Slams African Union Spying Claims As 'Preposterous'

Photo: Albert González Farran/UNAMID
Built by China - the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.

China described allegations that it bugged the African Union's headquarters as "preposterous" on the final day of the 30th AU Summit, which also dealt with key issues such as South Sudan's civil war and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

In an article published the day before the summit opened, French paper Le Monde alleged that the Chinese-built AU building in Addis Ababa had been sending data back to Shanghai.

The snooping started when the buliding, a gift from China to Ethiopia, opened in 2012, the paper claimed.

The AU has since changed servers but the news set the summit abuzz, prompting an angry reaction from the Chinese embassy in the Ethopian capital.

Speaking to RFI, the Chinese ambassador to the AU Kuang Weilin called the allegations "preposterous" adding that Le Monde's story was nothing but "sensationalism".

AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat and AU chairperson Paul Kagame dismissed the allegations, stating there was no evidence to back up the claim.

The summit wrapped up with Rwanda's Kagame firmly in place as this year's rotating chairperson and the choice of Egypt to take over next year in 2019.

It may have been slower paced than previous years but a few major issues were dealt with at the meeting:

South Sudan

Following a closed meeting session with the regional bloc Igad and the South Sudanese delegation, it was decided that enough progress had been made since the last meeting in November for the process to enter the first phase of the revitalisation process.

This entails going back to the terms of the 2015 peace agreement.

Since 2013 South Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war, with both sides failing to respect ceasefires.

One major change to come out of this meeting is the fact that violators will be targeted for punishment.

A sentiment echoed by Moussa Faki Mahamat on the first day of the summit.

"We need to act against those who, with impunity, are continuing to massacre their peaceful populations," he declared.

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

One major issue dealt with during the summit was the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd), the largest dam to be built in Africa at a cost of 3.9 billion euros.

The main point of contention has been Egypt's fear of losing a major source of water. Studies done on the Egyptian side point to a loss of water for Cairo, while Ethiopia says its study shows the project would provoke no problems. Sudan, on the other hand, would stand to gain water from the dam.

The dam has created tension between Cairo and Addis Ababa, with Khartoum caught in the middle but siding more with Ethiopia. While there have been many high-level meetings to find a solution, none appear to have worked. The latest meeting took place in Cairo when Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn suggested a tripartite meeting at the AU Summit.

The meeting was postponed but on Tuesday morning Egypt's Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Sudan's Omar el-Bashir and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn met.

They put forward a plan consisting of three items, as explained by Sudan's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour.

A permanent high-level political committee made up of foreign affairs ministers and intelligence chiefs is tasked with anticipating difficulties and resolving and discussing any problems that may arise in the future.

A political and technical committee made up of foreign affairs ministers, intelligence chiefs, and agriculture and water ministers will discuss and find solutions for technical problems posed by the dam.

Given all three countries share the Nile, a fund, financed equally by the three states, is to pay for common infrastructure projects, such as roads.

Another meeting between al-Sisi and al-Bashir discussed asking the media in their respective countries to tone down the negative reporting of the dam.

AU reforms

Although not all member states agreed with Kagame's ambitious reform proposals, they have been pushed through.

On Monday the new Single African Air Transport Market was opened, allowing airlines from the 23 countries that signed up to the project to conduct business in the markets and have full traffic rights.

Kagame has called the scheme important for the continent's development. Faki also noted the SAATM will help to "integrate the continent".

Kagame is also pushing ahead with freedom of movement of people across Africa and the contentious 0.02 percent tax levy on taxable imports on all member states to fund the AU.

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