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What to expect at the 26th AU Summit

What to expect at the 26th AU Summit
January 19, 2016

The 26th Africa Union Heads of State and governments summit will take place from the 21st to 31st January 2016 at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with the theme "2016: African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women". The Summit is expected to deliberate and pass resolutions on important peace and security, development, and integration issues in the continent.


The 24th heads of states and governments meeting in January 2015 focused on the International Criminal Court (ICC) summoning of the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and the notice for arrest of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. The Summit had also put Ebola at the centre stage and assessed the implementation of the AU support to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA) and subsequent deployment of health volunteers from Member States to help countries affected. Consequently, the assembly passed important decisions and resolutions.

This year, developments on the continent show that the focus will be directed to other issues of a different nature. Applying the principle of non-indifference on Burundi, the effects of El-Nino, terrorism, and other peace and security concerns are expected to be main issues in focus at the 26th AU Summit.

2016: African Year of Human Rights
The year 2016 has been declared the year of human rights for Africa. The AU has chosen the theme "2016: African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women". The particular theme has been selected because the year 2016, "marks a veritable watershed in the continental human rights trajectory: 2016 marks the 35th Anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1981. It also marks the 30th Anniversary of the entry into force of the African Charter in 1986. This year also marks the 29th Anniversary of the operationalisation of the Commission in 1987 (in 2016, the Commission will be one year shy of its 30th anniversary); 2016 also marks the 10th Anniversary of the operationalisation of the Court."

Celebrating a year of human rights in Africa is thought to provide further opportunity to consolidate the gains already made over the years, ensure better coordination of human rights bodies on the continent, and move towards the establishment of a true human rights culture on the continent.

Burundi: AU's Principle of Non-Indifference put to the Test
Following a yearlong unrest in Burundi, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) had on 17th December 2015 released a communiqué which declared that the AU will deploy troops to the country. The communiqué noted that the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) will be deployed in brining peace and stability back to the country. The AUPSD further stressed that the MAPROBU will be deployed against any party or actor which would impede the implementation of the decision pointing out that in the event of non‐acceptance of the deployment, the matter will be forwarded to the the Assembly of the Union for recommendation.

Right after the release of the communiqué, the government of Burundi opposed the AU decision and called the MAPROBU an 'invading force'. The rejection by Burundi means that the matter now has to be tabled for decision at the 26th AU Summit.

The move by the AU to stand up to a member state with an elected government, albeit through a contested election by invoking the AU Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance and by implementing the provisions of the PSC Protocol on early warning, has improved its image in the eyes of many critics. Intervening in a member state and deploying troops in such circumstances is however a new process even for the AU. Even if its Constitutive Act Article 4 (h) stipulates its right to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, the continental organisation has not yet invoked this article before. But the unrest in Burundi and a possibility of a civil war in the country forced the organisation to intervene and contemplate in deploying forces there.

The 26th AU Summit is thus a defining moment for the organisation. If the Summit gives the go ahead for the AU to deploy forces in Burundi, then a new era can be said to have been entered wherein the AU will have the precedent and legal backing to go against any member state that commits crime against its own people.

However, there is a possibility that the Summit might also look into other solutions to resolve the crisis such as launching a reinvigorated mediation before resorting to any military solution.

Election for the AU Commission Chairperson
The current AU commission chairperson Dlamini Zuma is reportedly not looking for a second term in her office as she is gearing up to run for the presidency in South Africa. The country's ruling party, the Africa National Congress (ANC), is internally looking for a women leadership and Zuma provides the political maturity ANC is looking for. With extensive experience in politics, Zuma has served under every ANC president: health minister under Nelson Mandela between 1994 and 1999; foreign affairs minister under Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe between 1999 and 2009; and home affairs minister under Jacob Zuma from 2009 until her resignation in October 2012. Moreover, she reportedly has the support of all major ANC allied bodies—including the ANC youth league, the ANC women's league, a powerful trifecta of regional ANC leaders and of course, her ex-husband Jacob Zuma.

Given that her term at the AU will end in July this year, the 26th AU heads of state summit might look forward and discuss possible candidates that may be suitable for the job.

El-Nino and its Effects
The effects of El-Nino that started last year in many african countries is expected to continue in 2016 causing drought and flooding in different parts of the continent. This year in particular, Southern Africa will be hardest hit. The worst-affected countries in 2016 will be Angola, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique. It is expected that about 30 million people might be affected in Southern Africa in 2016.

In East Africa and the Horn, there are worrying cases of drought and flooding. Ethiopia is already hit by a drought that is compared to the 1984 famine in the country. Although the government has allocated $192 million, the amount is not enough to feed the 15 million people expected to be affected in 2016. Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan, and Somalia are also affected by low rains adding to the number of people in assistance.

The AUPSD in its communiqué in November held that, "El Nino is one of the major and recurrent non-military threats to the sustainable development, peace, security and stability of the African continent." The impact of the El-Nino on the economies of states affected cannot be overstated. In addition to the humanitarian aid required, there is also a parallel call to support affected countries to endure the El-Nino without much effect on their economies. Thus the Summit is expected to come up with a mechanism to foster humanitarian aid and support the states in need.

Terrorism and Other Peace and Security Concerns
Terrorism is expected to be raised once again in this year's Summit. Even if an intensified offensive on Boko Haram had made the group reportedly weak, the terrorist group is far from complete demolition. In Somalia, efforts by AMISOM has seen that Al-Shabab does not have the same strength it once had. But complete victory against the group is not yet in sight. Thus, the upcoming AU Summit is expected to point out the strengths in the successes so far and the future strategies to deal with the terrorist groups.

Moreover, peace and security developments in South Sudan, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic, Sudan, and Western Sahara are expected to be raised and deliberated upon.


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