African Union leaders are meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Monday for a 2 day summit in a bid to vote for a new chairperson, and to debate whether to allow Morocco to rejoin the continental bloc.
Three of its 4 major regions – the south, the east and the west – are supporting their own nominees to head the bloc.
Leading candidates to replace South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to serve as the continent’s top diplomat, are Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohammed and Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily.
Morocco quit the African Union’s predecessor – the Organization of African Unity (OAU) – 3 decades ago due to dispute over the body’s recognition of Western Sahara (Sahrawi), most of which has been controlled by Morocco since 1976. However, King Mohammed VI has been on a diplomatic charm offensive in the last year to try to win his country’s readmission.
Continental heavyweights Algeria and South Africa have been backers of the Sahrawi Republic, the domestic political movements that lays claim to the territory along the northern Sahara’s Atlantic seaboard. Neither has said explicitly it will oppose Morocco’s re-entry.
International Criminal Court
Preliminary meetings have also been dominated by disputes over the International Criminal Court (ICC), which countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Uganda say is a tool of Western imperialism that unfairly targets the continent. Conversely, Nigeria, Botswana and other states say the Hague-based court is an important legal backstop for countries whose domestic justice systems have been compromised by civil conflict.
Outgoing chairperson, Dlamini-Zuma, was due to end her term in July last year but had to extend her time when the African Union (AU) failed to reach agreement on a successor.
Her election 4-1/2 years ago after intense lobbying by South Africa rankled many countries because it breached an unwritten rule preventing major states holding the AU chair.
During her time in charge, Dlamini-Zuma focused on reforming the AU’s internal bureaucracy and drawing up a long-term for improving the lives of Africa’s marginal citizens, especially women and children. However, she has been criticized for failing to heal the rifts created by her election and not doing more to prevent conflict in countries such as South Sudan.