Critical issues for AU as main summit begins

Saturday January 29 2011

Africa’s heads of state and government begin their annual summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa Sunday with a plateful of critical issues the continent has been grappling with in the recent past.

Among the matters begging for resolutions at the Assembly of the African Union 16th Ordinary Session, is the Cote d’Ivoire crisis where incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara have been locked in a power struggle since the presidential re-run poll on November 28, 2010.

Kenya’ Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was the AU special envoy to Cote d’Ivoire, and whose efforts have borne no fruit, has already presented his report to the Peace and Security Council.

The Kenyan Premier has essentially bounced the ball back to the heads of state and government, who must now chart the way forward.

“This summit must send a strong and unequivocal message that the two (Ivorian) parties must negotiate face to face,” Mr Odinga said in his address to the press after a closed door session on Friday evening.

He warned that the Cote d’Ivoire crisis risked creating continent-wide divisions if not resolved amicably.


Also to be discussed at the AU summit is the Kenya’s stand on the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

Following the Hague-based court naming of the suspected sponsors of Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence, the East African state has embarked on an aggressive continent-wide charm offensive against the ICC.

Kenya’s Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka has been to several African countries seeking their support on a common stand against the ICC.

His efforts have yielded both solidarity, ambivalence and outright rejection. It would be interesting to see what position the AU finally takes on the matter.

The imminent split of Africa largest state, Sudan, will also come up for a resolution at the Addis Summit. Southern Sudanese early this month held a referendum on their independence, with an overwhelming over 90 per cent voting for secession from the North.

Sudan package also comes along with the Darfur crisis which has seen the ICC issue a warrant of arrest for the country’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

President Bashir is accused of committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in the western Sudan region, charges he has vehemently denied.

African giant Egypt has been increasingly restive since the beginning of the year, with demands for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981. This issue should also come up at the AU summit, considering the momentum it has gained following the ouster of Tunisian President Ben Ali by a popular revolt.

Fears are rife that the Tunisia revolt could be replicated in several other countries facing governance issues in Africa and beyond.

In making their resolutions, the African chief executives , will have to be cautious and alive to the increasing international community watch interest over the continent.

It is instructive that even previously laid back Australia is well represented at this year’s summit.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd is here and on Friday addressed one of the AU sessions, with a coded but strong message that his country was ready to play a greater role in Africa.

”We come as a developed country, but one from the south,’’ said Mr Rudd “We are not from North America. We are not from Europe. We are simply Australia,” he said.

The summit will climax with Malawian President and AU chairman Bingu Mutharika handing over the baton, possibly to Theodore Obiang’ Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.