African Union summit faces challenges

South African Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, July 15.

With growing threats to the independence and sovereignty of the African continent, the African Union held its 2012 summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 15-16. The meeting was originally scheduled to be held in Malawi, but the country’s new president, Joyce Banda, refused to host the event if Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir attended.

Bashir has been targeted by the International Criminal Court, which has issued warrants for his arrest along with other leading officials in the Republic of Sudan government. The AU has over the last few years since the warrants were issued refused to acknowledge the efforts of the Netherlands-based entity due to the problems such actions pose for maintaining the organization’s unity.

Under its previous leader, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi hosted the Sudanese leader last year at the regional summit meeting. President Banda, the country’s first woman leader, said that she is seeking to rebuild relations with donor states that had been at odds with the former head-of-state, resulting in severe economic problems for the impoverished Southern African country.

This year’s summit was marked by a struggle over control of the full-time position of commission chair. Jean Ping of Gabon had held the post since it was established, and his continued tenure was a source of conflict within the organization.

The AU has an annual rotating presidency now held by Benin’s president, Thomas Boni Yayi. The position of commission chair is a post whose appointment lasts for four years and is more administrative in nature.

In Addis Ababa, the vote over who would control the position took on gender and regional dimensions. Since the formation of the AU in 2002, the commission chair position had not been held by anyone from the Southern African region.

Also, the position had never been held by a woman until now. This year’s decision by the African leaders brought about the election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the minister of Home Affairs for the Republic of South Africa and a longtime member of the ruling African National Congress.

The ANC, in a statement responding to the election of one of its members to the post, said, “Comrade Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has the potential and the capacity to take the AU to new heights owing to her accumulated experience in the liberation movement led by the ANC both in exile and in the country, women structures as well as a minister in government including international relations.” (, July 16)

The statement went on to point out: “As a Minister of Foreign Affairs, she (Dlamini-Zuma) championed a number of initiatives in the multi-lateral forums where she argued consistently on the need to re-organize these forums to accommodate developing nations as equal partners. … She is known for her views on issues of women empowerment and those on the receiving end of poverty.”

Challenges for the AU including imperialist intervention

A number of critical issues are facing the AU during this period. One positive outcome of the Addis Ababa summit was the meeting held between Republic of Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Republic of South Sudan’s president, Silva Kiir.

The two recently separated states have numerous issues that remain unresolved involving border demarcations, the utilization and compensation for oil resources and the ongoing conflict in the western Darfur region. Both Bashir and Kiir agreed to hold further negotiations in order for these outstanding questions to be agreed upon in a manner satisfactory to both governments.

In reference to the situation inside the Republic of Sudan itself, the AU Peace and Security Council stressed the importance of resuming talks between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North in order to reach an agreement over the status of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Both states are areas of dispute between Khartoum (Sudan capital) and Juba (South Sudan capital). They are areas where fighting is continuing between the SPLA-N and the central government.

A statement issued by the AUPSC says, “The Council welcomes the acceptance by both Parties of the need for the resumption of negotiations, and urges them to commence these negotiations immediately under the facilitation of the AU and the Chair of the Inter-regional Governmental Authority on Development.” The same statement urges both Parties “to maintain the neutrality and integrity of humanitarian assistance consistent with respect for the sovereignty of the Republic of Sudan.” (Sudan Tribune, July 15)

In April, the two countries were on the verge of the re-emergence of full-scale war when the South Sudan army took control of the Heglig oil fields near the border with the North. South Sudan had complained over differences related to the compensation for and distribution of oil in the region.

The tensions were eased when the SPLA-N agreed to withdraw its forces from Heglig. Nonetheless, the oil industry in South Sudan remains paralyzed after relations broke down between the neighbors.

In the North, the drastic decline in oil revenues from fields in the South has brought about the imposition of austerity by Khartoum. These austerity measures have prompted demonstrations against the Bashir government by students and opposition groups which have called for his resignation.

Another major issue facing the AU is the continuing crisis in Mali, where a military coup in the capital of Bamako and a secessionist movement in the North have divided the country politically. Several armed groups, including the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) Ansar Dine, the Arab National Liberation Front and others, have been struggling over control of the region.

The AU has largely relied upon the Economic Community of West African States, the 16-member regional organization, to take the lead in resolving the Mali crisis. However, there has not been the previously discussed intervention of ECOWAS troops to put down the rebellion in the North as well as stabilizing the government in the South, where differences exist over a negotiated coalition regime composed of both military and civilian elements.

In regard to the escalating tensions in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the AU announced on July 15 that it is preparing to send a peacekeeping contingent to the area. Presidents Joseph Kabila of the DRC and Paul Kagame of Rwanda both attended the Summit.

Rwanda has been accused of supporting a mutiny by DRC military forces in the eastern region, a claim which President Kagame has denied. The M23 rebel group, which has taken several towns in the area, says that it only wants grievances addressed and is requesting dialogue with the DRC government based in Kinshasha.

The post-colonial African situation has created numerous conflicts throughout the continent that preclude genuine independence, sovereignty and unity across national and regional boundaries. The current conflict in Somalia is a case in point, where several neighboring states allied with the U.S. are inside the country fighting to prevent the al-Shabab resistance movement from taking power.

With the formation of the United States Africa Command in 2008, the political stability of the continent has been seriously threatened. In Libya during 2011, Africom and NATO waged a war of regime change that led to thousands of deaths, including that of the leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Africom has a base in Djibouti and is increasing its surveillance and reconnaissance missions throughout East, Central and West Africa. The U.S. deployed at least 100 Special Forces to four different countries in Central and East Africa last October.

Therefore, if the AU does not take action to resolve these ongoing conflicts, the imperialist states led by the U.S. will deepen their penetration of the continent. Imperialist intervention will only worsen the economic and humanitarian crises in Africa, as the situations in Libya and Somalia have proven.

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