As the leaders of the continent gathered for their annual summit in Addis Ababa on Saturday, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged them to take “action for peace” in order to combat the rising violence.
The African Union (AU) meeting aims to address these issues and jump-start a faltering free trade agreement. Africa is currently dealing with a record drought in the Horn of Africa and deadly violence in the Sahel region and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The majority of the two-day summit’s sessions will take place behind closed doors at the AU’s headquarters in the capital of Ethiopia.
But the bloc will be closely watched to see if it can broker ceasefires in the Sahel and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the M23 militia has seized large areas of land and sparked a diplomatic dispute between Kinshasa and the Rwandan government, which is accused of supporting the rebels.
Speaking to the group, Guterres said, “I am deeply concerned about the recent escalation of violence by armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the rise of terrorist groups in the Sahel and elsewhere.
The UN secretary-general expressed concern that “the mechanisms for peace are faltering.” However, he exhorted the bloc to “continue the fight for peace.”
Leaders of the seven-nation East African Community pushed for the withdrawal of all armed groups from occupied areas in the eastern DRC by the end of next month at a mini-summit on Friday.
On Friday, Guterres met with a number of African leaders, including Paul Kagame of Rwanda, to talk specifically about the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The return of democracy
Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, which are under junta rule and have been expelled from the AU, are unable to attend this weekend’s summit.
However, representatives from the three countries are in Addis Ababa to lobby for readmission.
In Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Sudan, I support your call for the reinstatement of democratically elected civilian governments, Guterres said.
The African Union Commission’s head, Moussa Faki Mahamat, told the gathering that the group needed to devise fresh plans to halt the erosion of democracy on the continent.
Sanctions imposed on member states as a result of unconstitutional political changes, he claimed, “appears to be failing to produce the desired results.”
For the system of opposition to the unconstitutional changes to be more effective, Faki continued, “it seems necessary to reconsider it.”
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which was launched in 2020, will also be hastening its implementation as part of the summit.
The agreement, which brings together 54 of the 55 African nations—Eritrea being the lone holdout—is hailed as the largest in the world in terms of population.
By removing nearly all tariffs, the AfCFTA seeks to increase trade between African countries by 60 percent by 2034 from its current level of only about 15 percent.
However, due to obstacles like disagreements over tariff reductions and border closures brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, implementation has fallen far short of that objective.
The leaders of Africa are also anticipated to discuss the food crises that are wreaking havoc on a continent that has been severely affected by the worst drought in forty years as well as the ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine that have driven up the price of basic necessities.
The phrase “limited diplomatic heft”
The Organisation of African Unity was abolished in 2002, and the 55 countries that make up the continent’s 1.4 billion people are now members of the AU.
The bloc has received praise for speaking out against coups, but it has long faced criticism for being ineffective.
Kagame is scheduled to deliver a report on the reform of the AU’s institutions. Kagame has been pleading with the organization to make significant changes for years.
Since the African Union is largely dependent on donations from abroad, the leader of Rwanda has urged the organization to take steps toward financial independence.
President Azali Assoumani of Comoros assumed leadership of the tiny, 900,000-person archipelago in the Indian Ocean after Macky Sall of Senegal stepped down from the position.
Given his country’s weak diplomatic position, the 64-year-old Assoumani “will need the support of other senior African leaders to discharge the role,” according to the International Crisis Group think tank.