Addis Ababa, February 03, 2015 (GMN) - Security, Ebola, Election Tops agenda at AU Summit. As the two-day African Union summit came to an end on Saturday January 31, security was one of the major issues discussed. The organization showed signs of shedding its image as a slothful steward for Africa, where it is often outpaced by Western powers in responding to insurgencies and pestilence. Here are some of the major happenings at this year’s summit:
Zimbabwe’s long time President Robert Mugabe took over the position of Chairmanship of the African Union at the 24th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government that kicked off on Friday January 30. In his acceptance speech, one of Africa’s oldest head of state Mugabe said that Africans must safeguard their natural resources from foreign exploitation. “African resources should belong to Africa and to no one else, except to those we invite as friends. Friends we shall have, yes, but imperialists and colonialists no more,” he stated. The 90 year old president who has been leading Zimbabwe for well over 3 decades stated that he is grateful for the recent oil finds on the continent that “blind eyes of colonialists could not see”. The new AU Chairman also stressed that the agricultural sector needs to be strengthened. “Since the majority of our people depend on the land for sustenance, we need to ensure they have access to the land and that Africa’s vast agricultural potential is fully harnessed,” Mugabe said. He said his government’s measures were “precisely meant to achieve this” and the “positive impact the program is having on some sectors of our farmers has vindicated us.” Mugabe took over the position of Chairman replacing Mauritania’s leader Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz. “By electing me to preside over this august body, with full knowledge of the onerous responsibility that lies ahead, I humbly accept your collective decision,” he said.
During the summit, the African Union also endorsed a plan to set up a regional task force of 7,500 to fight Boko Haram militants that have been creating havoc in North East Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Boko Haram has made incursions into neighboring Cameroon and threatens the stability of a region that includes Niger and Chad. More than 13,000 people have been killed and more than one million were made homeless by the terrorist group violence since 2009. "Boko Haram's horrendous abuses, unspeakable cruelty, total disregard for human lives, and wanton destruction of property are unmatched. The continued attacks in northeastern Nigeria and the increasing attacks in the Lake Chad Basin, along the border with Chad and Cameroon, and in the northern provinces of that country, have the potential of destabilizing the entire region, with far-reaching security and humanitarian consequences,” AU Commission Chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement. Chad's President Idriss Deby, who earlier this month sent a convoy of troops and 400 military vehicles into neighboring Cameroon to help fight Boko Haram, said action had to be taken. "We have seen too many meetings and no concrete action," Deby said. "Today, there are four countries affected by Boko Haram, but tomorrow it may be a continental problem." Nigeria, although having the largest army in West Africa, has come under heavy criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram from advancing and taking over more areas in the country. Earlier this month Nigerian security officials ruled out the need for a United Nations or African Union-backed force to fight Boko Haram, saying the country and its partners could handle the threat.
The situation in Libya has been another focus of the AU discussions this week. At a meeting held ahead of the Heads of States gathering, it was stated that ending conflict in Libya can only be achieved through a political deal. Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Dayri stated that the only solution to bring an end to the current crisis in Libya is a political settlement. Libya has been in chaos due to a continued conflict since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 uprising. “We are aware that many African nations have voiced their concerns at the increasingly deteriorating security situation in Libya. We are aware of the spillover this situation has represented for Mali, Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Egypt and Chad,” stated the Foreign Minister. According to Hiroute Guebresellassie who is a U.N envoy for the Sahel region, military intervention in Libya will not make sense, what is needed is a political consensus.
al-Sisi cuts short visit
Another nation that plunged into instability this week was Egypt which led the country’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to cut short his visit to Addis Ababa for the AU summit after Islamic State's Egyptian wing claimed the killing of at least 32 soldiers and police officers in the Sinai Peninsula. The four separate attacks that were carried out on Thursday January 29, were among the bloodiest in years and the first significant assault in the region since the most active Sinai militant group swore allegiance to IS in November, 2014. It has been stated that majority of casualties occurred in the bombing of a military hotel and base in al-Arish, the heavily guarded Sinai provincial capital. Sisi left Addis Ababa after meeting with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn following the AU summit's opening session. ICC On a lighter note, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s International Criminal Court (ICC) victory was acknowledged as victory for the whole of Africa. The ICC recently dropped all criminal charges against President Kenyatta for lack of evidence. The urgency to move forward the proposed Africa Court of Justice to provide African solutions to African problems was also underlined.
In a controversial light, the AU has been criticized by rights groups for postponing the release of a report which is expected to reveal those responsible for atrocities committed in the violence in South Sudan. It was stated that the African Union Peace and Security Council delayed releasing the report to advance a mediation process that is about to achieve the formation of an interim government of national unity in the youngest nation in the world. South Sudan's President Salva Kiir who reportedly went through a brief health scare met with his rival, Riek Machar on Wednesday January 28. The meeting was the latest effort to bring stability in the country that has been ripped apart by conflict for the last 13 months and counting.
Besides African Heads of State, the AU summit was also attended by Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Addressing the summit, Ban Ki-moon stated that there were concerns worldwide about some leaders who try to cling to power when their term ends. He asked political leaders who have been rejected at the ballot box to honor the decision of voters and leave office. “Undemocratic constitutional changes and legal loopholes should never be used to cling to power”, he said. He urged all leaders in Africa and around the world to listen to their people and their wishes.