African leaders first post-Gaddafi summit
Addis Ababa - The African Union is preparing for its first summit since the death of its founder Muammar Gaddafi, amid a drive by southern nations to wrest influence from the late Libyan's West African allies.
Many AU summits have been dominated by talks on the continent's conflict hot spots and contests for the bloc's rotating chairmanship, held for a year by a president from one of its five regions.
However, the election for the post of chairman of the AU commission - the 54-member body's main executive arm - is likely to take centre stage after South Africa's Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma mounted a challenge to the incumbent from Gabon, Jean Ping.
Sources close to Ping say he is confident of re-election, counting on support from French-speaking West and Central Africa countries.
But Dlamini-Zuma, the ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, has launched a tough campaign and has the backing of the 15-member Southern African Development Community.
South Africa has been lobbying hard across the continent to drum up support to win the two thirds of the vote needed, cast in a secret ballot.
For the AU, "one of the most anticipated moments" at this year's meeting will be those elections for the top AU positions, officials said.
AU spokesperson Noureddine Mezni said: "The focus is on the election," which will be held on January 30.
The January 29-30 summit's official theme is "Boosting Intra-African Trade," with hopes to promote economic links between African countries, who traditionally have had their strongest trade ties with former colonial powers.
Leaders will also focus on the long-running conflict in Somalia, where the AU has a 10 000-strong force protecting the country's fragile Western-backed government from the al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab militia.
Mezni said that the summit will also discuss insecurity in the Sahel region, where al-Qaeda linked fighters also operate in several countries.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will attend the summit alongside Jia Qinglin, chair of China's political advisory body - the People's Political Consultative Conference.
In a demonstration of strengthening ties between Africa and China, Jia will attend the inauguration of the new Chinese-built AU headquarters, a high-tech building that cost $200m.
With Kadhafi gone, Libya - which used to provide around 15% of the AU's budget - will be represented by Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib.
Credited with the founding the AU in Libyan town of Sirte in 1999, the late Libyan leader was famous for hours-long speeches, flamboyant garbs and political clout as a key AU financier.
"We are pleased to receive the prime minister of Libya," said Maxwell Mkwezalamba, the AU Commissioner for Economic Affairs.
West African chair
"He will be given the opportunity to address the assembly and to testify their commitment to [being] a member state."
A new Libyan permanent representative will also be appointed, replacing the previous envoy under Gaddafi.
The organisation only recognised Libya's new Islamist leaders last September, after having failed to assert itself as a mediator in the conflict.
Leaders will also choose a new chair for the pan-African body, an annual secret ballot held every January.
The next chair will come from the west African region to replace the current one, Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema, whose election was condemned by rights group over his poor rights record at home.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh or Benin's leader Boni Yayi are Obiang's likely successors, according to diplomatic sources.