African leaders will focus on the continent's Covid-19 response at their virtual summit, hosted from Addis Ababa, this weekend. They will also examine security crises that have been overlooked during the pandemic.
The two-day African Union summit takes place one year after Egypt recorded the first case of Covid-19 in Africa, prompting widespread fears that member states' health systems would quickly be overwhelmed.
Despite early doomsday predictions, the continent has so far been hit less hard than other regions, recording 3.5 percent of global virus cases and 4 percent of global deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many African countries are currently battling damaging second waves while straining to procure sufficient vaccine supplies.
"The developed North, which has substantial financial resources, has purchased the largest stocks, while we in Africa are still struggling to get our fair share," South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in remarks opening the pre-summit meeting of AU foreign ministers.
Member states will vote this weekend to choose those to lead a restructured AU executive body. The results are expected to shape how the multi-national alliance responds to the pandemic and a host of economic and security challenges.
Security taking second place behind Covid
Security crises, meanwhile, include a three-month-old conflict in the AU's host country Ethiopia, and longer-running problems in the Sahel and elsewhere.
"We hope that the summit will present an opportunity for African leaders to refocus their attention on a number of conflicts and crises that have had attention diverted away from them, due to the logical focus on Covid in the last year," said Imogen Hooper, AU analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Vaccination a major difficulty
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver a pandemic response update during the closed portion of the summit on Saturday.
As outgoing AU chairman, Ramaphosa has spent the past year overseeing efforts to scale up testing and delivery of vaccines, while grappling with 1.5 million infections in his own country -- roughly 40 percent of the continent's total.
This week South Africa received one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and Ramaphosa's government plans to inoculate 67 percent of its population by year's end.
Continent-wide targets are less ambitious, with the WHO describing an end-of-year goal of around 30 percent as more "realistic".
Concern over regional conflict
There are several internal crises the AU has done little to resolve.
The organisation's Peace and Security Council has failed to address the conflict between government forces and anglophone separatists in Cameroon, for example, to say nothing of rising Islamist militancy in Mozambique.
The conflict in AU host nation Ethiopia, pitting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government against the former ruling party of the northern Tigray region, has proved especially sensitive.