What will be on the lips of AU leaders next week?

2015-01-25 15:00

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The empowerment of women is the official theme of next week’s African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but the various crises and conflicts on the continent are likely to enjoy more airtime.

Carien du Plessis lists a few themes to look out for when African heads of state gather in the newly renamed Nelson Mandela Plenary Hall.


Nigerian terror group Boko Haram’s capture of 200 schoolgirls in Chibok last year drew global attention. This week, AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma again vowed that the organisation would not give up its campaign to bring back the girls. She also expressed her horror earlier this month after the recent massacre in Baga, Nigeria, in which hundreds of peole were killed.

Niger has proposed that the AU assembly express continent-wide solidarity against Boko Haram. At a special summit on terrorism in September, the AU called on states to share intelligence and to establish regional counterterrorism units. Leaders are likely next week to take stock of progress.

Another one to watch is the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, which takes place on the sidelines to decide what action peacekeepers will take after the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo failed to meet a deadline to surrender earlier this month.

Conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan will also be discussed.


President Jacob Zuma will be leading negotiations on the nuts and bolts of an interim standby force that will allow Africa to intervene in African problems.

He has been leading initiatives to establish the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises when it seemed the African Standby Force, more than a decade in the making, was taking too long to establish.

There were plans to deploy the SA National Defence Force last year already, but General Katumba Wamala of Uganda last month told the Mail & Guardian that the force would be ready for deployment in 2015, and that Uganda would coordinate efforts in the first six months of the year, followed by South Africa.

Eleven countries support this initiative, but some of Africa’s major powers, including Nigeria, aren’t keen. Some commentators have suggested that Zuma is driving this as one of his legacy projects.


Last year the AU was criticised for being too slow in the fight against the spread of Ebola, which has killed more than 8?600 people. Dlamini-Zuma has since toured affected countries and raised funds from both the private sector and ordinary citizens via SMS for health workers. Ebola dominates her New Year’s video message on the AU website, in which she announces the launch of an AU foundation for fundraising.


Next year sees the end of Dlamini-Zuma’s first term as AU Commission chairperson, and although she’s eligible for a second, she told City Press last year she hasn’t made up her mind whether she’ll stand again. Her leadership has been strongly criticised, mainly by Francophone countries. Some criticisms include that she has employed too many South Africans at commission headquarters and hasn’t had a clear strategy – other than her Vision 2063 for Africa, which envisages a borderless, prosperous and peaceful continent.

Dlamini-Zuma has been mentioned as a possible candidate for ANC leader in 2017, but recently that talk has died down. She also wasn’t spotted at the party’s birthday rally in Cape Town this month.



In the entrance hall to the AU’s headquarters, portraits of former president Nelson Mandela and President Robert Mugabe are the favourite backdrops for conference delegate selfies. Mugabe is in line this year to take over the AU chair – a ceremonial position elected by assembly heads of state for one year. Like last year, his extended December break has raised questions about his health, and this year he’ll again be watched closely by journalists and cheered loudly by delegates.


Like last year’s agriculture theme, Dlamini-Zuma’s wish is likely to be that conflict-preventing measures should dominate discussions, rather than talk about putting out flames on the continent. Food security and women’s empowerment are two such measures.

This week, Dlamini-Zuma tweeted that the AU’s fight “must focus on human security, inclusion, managing diversity & tolerance; & away from militarisation, intolerance and extremism”. In keeping with this year’s theme of women’s empowerment in Africa, she added: “This year we must make a concerted push [that] at least a quarter of all public representatives in Africa are women.”

In her New Year’s message, she said Africa faced some “challenging elections” in 2015. There will be 15 of them, the most challenging expected in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Togo, Nigeria, Burundi and Egypt.


The Addis Regency Hotel – one of Addis Ababa’s more reasonable hotels – has brazenly stated on its website that “due to the African Union Conference, rates will be doubled”. The cheapest rooms are now $150 (R1?711) a night. Prices at the Sheraton – where heads of state will stay – range from R3?500 to more than R8?000 a night outside of conference season, and are all booked out next week.

Nongovernmental organisation workers always wring their hands about the amount of money leaders and their own organisations have to pay to attend a summit to discuss the problems of a continent where most live in poverty.

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