Burundi question weighs heavily as AU summit begins in Addis Ababa

Thursday January 28 2016

President Uhuru Kenyatta during the 24th African Union summit at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 30, 2015. The African Union is set to renew the lobbying to reform the UN Security Council when leaders converge in Ethiopia. PHOTO | PSCU

President Uhuru Kenyatta during the 24th African Union summit at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 30, 2015. PHOTO | PSCU 

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The 26th African Union (AU) summit is heavily loaded with agenda items.

One of the burning issues is whether the heads of state who arrive here later this week will authorise the deployment of an armed force in the troubled central African country of Burundi.

What happens at AU summits is that most of the decisions are made by the Council of Ministers well before the arrival of presidents, who just endorse or reject the proposals.

Given that Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza has already said he will not allow a foreign force into his country, "the Burundi issue will suck the air as the heads of state make the decision if they will allow the deployment of 5,000 troops in Burundi by the AU,'' says Dr Yann Bedzigui, a conflict prevention researcher at South Africa's Institute of Policy Studies (ISS) who is attending the talks as an observer.

He adds: "Burundi already said no. The chairman of the talks will put a question that will require a majority of two thirds of the 54 AU member states.''

The signs are that this resolution will not pass as the AU operates on the basis of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.

The other burning issue is South Sudan, where the AU needs to get more involved because a unity government has not been formed.

South Sudan rebel forces have refused to join the government created by President Salva Kiir as a row rages over his decision to create extra regional states.

Also to be addressed will be terrorism in Somalia and the status of the Amisom peace-keeping force that has come under increasing attacks from the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab radicals.

Libya is also to be discussed as attempts are made to entrench a central government after the split caused by the vacuum caused by the ouster of the regime of long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

The summit will also address the creation of a new Peace and Security Council, where all the 15 seats are now vacant.

The question is whether the heavyweight nations should be given more powers. These states include Ethiopia as the host, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria.

The irony is that even Burundi is a candidate for membership on the Africa Peace and Security Council and can surely win a seat despite the instability in the country.

There is also the election of a new chairman of the AU Commission. The signs are that the incumbent, Ms Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma may not seek a new term, but that is later this year in July.


On Burundi, it is likely that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will be urged to play a greater role in the country's peace process. The same will apply to South Africa's Jacob Zuma.

Also to be addressed is whether Burundi should be suspended from the Amisom peace-keeping force in Somalia.

Rwanda may also have to explain whether claims that it is training Burundi rebels at its refugee camps is true.

The signs are that the summit will go for a political solution of the Burundi crisis as opposed to a military one.

Rwanda itself has accused Burundi of hosting Hutu rebels out to end the regime of President Paul Kagame.

There could also be calls to the East African Community (EAC) to expel or suspend Burundi from the regional body. But if Burundi is expelled, the EAC would not be able to play a role in the country's peace process.

It is unlikely President Nkurunziza will attend the Addis talks, as the last time he left the country was mid last year, an event that attracted a coup attempt.

Says Ms Stephanie Walters of the ISS: "[The] AU faces a credibility test as it has taken bold steps to restore order in Burundi, the order to send 5,000 troops was surprising.''

The summit will also address the tension between the AU and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The AU says the Hague-based court should not file any charges against a serving African head of state and should cancel any such case.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is currently facing charges at the ICC arising from alleged massacres in the country's Darfur region.


There will also be debate about appointing a special envoy for human rights who will draw up a continent-wide convention on fundamental rights.

Most of the meetings will be closed, especially the session on Burundi.

The theme of this year's summit is: "African year of human rights with particular focus on the rights of women.''

Among the side meetings will be the peer review forum to be chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday and the New Partnership for African Development meeting that will precede the peer review meeting.