A Summary of the African Union’s 26th Summit

On January 31st, the Assembly of the African Union concluded its 26th summit. Held every 6th months, the summit was held in the location of the headquarters of the African Union: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union is a supranational organization consisting of every African nation except Morocco. It exists to promote cooperation between African states, work towards higher living standards for all Africans, protect the sovereignty of African nations, and integrate the policies of African governments. Responsible for achieving these goals is The Assembly of the Union, the highest governing body of the African Union. Composed of heads of state of each member nation, it is responsible for setting the policy of the Union. It was this body, The Assembly of the Union, that met last week, with heads of states from all over Africa convening to discuss the path forward for their continent. So what did they accomplish? Read on to find out!

This is map of the African Union with its member states colored green. The countries colored in light green are suspended members.
This is map of the African Union with its member states colored green. The countries in light green are suspended members.

Agenda 2063:

Much of this year’s discussion is influenced by Agenda 2063, a document that has provided the vision for the African Union for the past few years. Conceived as a 50 year plan starting in 2013, the Agenda envisions a future Africa of economic prosperity, political unity, better governance, security, and common cultural identity. The Agenda draws heavily from the ideas of the African Renaissance and Pan-Africanism. The former refers to a flowering of technological and cultural progress from the continent while the latter refers to the development of much stronger political and cultural ties between the countries and peoples of Africa.

Topic-African Year of Human Rights:

The theme of the 26th AU summit was “African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women.” It is difficult to tell, at this time, the policy decisions made concerning this topic during the summit. While the AU always releases a document containing the decisions and declarations of the summit, it has not yet been released.

New Chairperson:

Every year, a new Chairperson of the AU is chosen from among the heads of states of African nations. In 2015, the Chairman was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. During this summit, he was replaced by Idriss Déby of Chad. The role of Chairperson is quite ceremonial, as they are responsible for little more than representing the AU at international events. Thus the appointment of Déby will have little effect on the decisions made and policies pursued by the AU.

Mugabe Sleeps:

The retirement of Mugabe as AU Chairman is, nonetheless, probably a positive change. Why? Well, Mugabe is quite well-known the world. An ailing dictator who drove Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground, his name recognition is due more to infamy than to fame. And at the age of 91, he is likely not a fitting figurehead to oversee the future of Africa. This was made abundantly clear during this summit, as there were reports of him sleeping through heated debates.

Decision on Burundi:

With the political crisis in Burundi overshadowing this year’s summit, the AU had been under pressure from the United Nations to convince the Burundian government to allow a peacekeeping force to be deployed in the country. Burundi has been simmering since last year, when it was shaken by protests and a failed coup d’état in response to an announcement by the president that he intended to seek an unconstitutional third term. Despite a request from Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general who spoke at the summit, the AU decided against sending troops to Burundi. It instead opted to send delegates to engage in dialogue with the Burundian government.

Criticism of the ICC:

Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, submitted a proposal that the AU develop a roadmap for withdrawal of African nations from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The proposal exposes the common feeling that the Court unfairly targets African nations because most of those prosecuted by the court have been African leaders. While a withdrawal by AU nations would certainly be concerning, alarm should be reserved for a later date as the decision made during this summit was simply to explore the option of leaving the ICC.

Criticism of the United Nations:

In his speech at the summit, Mugabe sharply criticized the United Nations. In a show of strong anti-western sentiment, he slammed the body for favoring western nations and neglecting African countries. He called for reform, proposing that Africa be given a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council. While the extent of the Mugabe’s antagonization of the west is quite extreme, they do bely a common frustration. Like the criticism of the ICC, his comments show a growing weariness of the western-dominated status quo of international politics.

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