African leaders face major issues at AU summit | Africa | DW | 29.01.2016
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African leaders face major issues at AU summit

Burundi, Boko Haram and a new leader are just some of the major issues facing African heads of state and foreign ministers at this weekend's African Union summit in Addis Ababa.

The agenda for this year's African Union (AU) summit will be a little different from that of previous years. For the first time in the history of the organization, it will be considering whether or not to send peacekeepers to Burundi against the country's will. The decision will be made according to Article 4 of the AU charter. A two-thirds majority is required for the so-called "MAPROBU" mission to be authorized this weekend. But which country is prepared to send soldiers for the mission remains unclear.

A few weeks ago, a delegation from the United Nations Security Council traveled to Burundi to convince the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza to accept the deployment of 5,000 troops. The current crisis in the country began when Nkurunziza announced his plans to run for a third term as president, something not allowed by the country's constitution. Violent protests broke out, threatening to push the country into civil war. More than 400 people were killed, over 230,000 were displaced and many fled the country. The current government has officially declared the proposed MAPROBU mission an "invasion force."

"We have to use this peacekeeping force to try and stabilize the country," said the AU's commissioner for peace and security, Amb. Smail Chergui. "We need to establish a framework for a common dialogue so that all questions will be addressed. Or else the country could get out of control."

An AU proposal would provide for up to 100 military and human rights observers to be sent to the country. They should be stationed at the volatile border areas with Rwanda.

"The [Burundian] government knows what is at stake, namely the stabilization and the disarming of militias in order to establish better control over the number of arms that are in circulation," said Chergui.

The Ethiopian security analyst Hallelujah Lulie believes that both sides will work out a compromise.

"They will come to an understanding that will be implemented by the AU Peace and Security Council," said Lulie.

No end in sight

Another topic at this weekend's summit will be the enduring crisis in South Sudan. Without discussing his plans with the opposition or with the intermediary group IGAD, President Salva Kiir recently increased the number of federal states in South Sudan from 10 to 28 and named their governors.

"This unilateral action is not the biggest impediment to the ongoing peace process," said Lulie.

Burundian soldiers

The ongoing crisis in Burundi will be one of the major topics of the summit

The increase of Islamic terrorism on the continent will also be on the table. Recent suicide bombings and kidnappings in Mali and Burkina Faso have raised the stakes for the AU to find a continent-wide or at least a regional strategy to deal with the threat.

Refugees, what refugees?

It is still unclear whether or not the ongoing refugee crisis is going to be discussed within the corridors of the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. Until now the AU and many of the governments on the continent have been silent on the issue even though many have pledged to support the European Union in stopping the tide of refugees flowing north.

Personnel will also be a topic to be discussed at the summit. All 15 posts of the AU Peace and Security Council are up for grabs. Ethiopia as the host of the AU Summit will most likely continue its role as the representative of eastern Africa while Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa will most likely be the driving forces of southern Africa.

Crises, wars and chairpersons

On the top of the agenda will be the election of the new chairperson of the African Union Commission. The term for the current chairwoman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma from South Africa, will expire this year. The wife of President Jacob Zuma is eying the presidency of her home country. That means that she will not be vying for another term as chairperson. One of the top candidates is Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, who was the African Union's commissioner for peace and security from 2007 to 2013. If he prevails, he would be the first person from North Africa to hold the position.

President of Chad Idriss Dedy

The president of Chad, Idriss Deby, is predicted to be the next chairman of the African Union

After an unspectacular tenure as the chairperson of the AU, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will most likely hand over the reins to Chadian President Idriss Deby in accordance with the Union's rotation principle. He has been a strategic partner in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists in northern Nigeria and the region. But not every neighbor of Chad has been happy with Deby's interventional policies, especially human rights groups, many of whom consider the leader an autocrat.

"It is with great apprehension that we predict that Deby is the most likely candidate for the post," said Ulrich Delius, the Africa representative for the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). "His election would not be a positive sign for greater protections of human rights by the AU."

Also the proposed visit of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, who has a warrant out for his arrest from the International Criminal Court, is not throwing any positive light onto the AU's upcoming proceedings.

Additional reporting by Getachew Tedla Hailegiorgis in Addis Ababa

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