African Union to debate Morocco’s bid to rejoin bloc

African Union leaders meet Monday for a summit that has exposed regional divisions as they mull whether to allow Morocco to rejoin the bloc, and vote for a new chairperson.

The two-day summit in Ethiopia comes after several shake-ups on the international stage: the election of US President Donald Trump and a new head of the UN, Antonio Guterres, who will address the opening of the assembly.

On Sunday in Addis Ababa, Guterres praised Ethiopia’s generosity in welcoming refugees from the region while battling its worst drought in 50 years.

It is “an example that I would say needs to be thought about in a world where unfortunately so many borders are being closed,” he said in a veiled dig at the US ban on travellers from seven Muslim countries, including Libya, Somalia and Sudan in Africa.

Uncertainty over Africa’s relationship with Trump’s America is one of several issues demanding the attention of AU leaders — from turmoil in Libya, radical Islam in Mali, Somalia and Nigeria, to stagnating peace efforts in South Sudan.

However Monday’s talks will be dominated by Morocco’s bid to return to the fold 33 years after it quit in protest against the AU’s decision to accept Western Sahara as a member.

– Facing resistance –

The membership of affluent Morocco could be a boon for the AU, which lost a key financier in late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and is working hard to become financially independent.

Currently foreign donors account for some 70 percent of its budget, according to the Institute for Security Studies.

A Moroccan diplomat said Sunday the country had the “unconditional support” of 42 members of the bloc.

However in a sign of the resistance Morocco is facing, 12 countries including heavyweights Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Kenya and Angola, requested a legal opinion from the AU on whether the bloc could accept a country that some members consider is occupying another member’s territory.

These nations have long supported the campaign for self-determination by Western Sahara’s Polisario movement.

Morocco maintains that the former Spanish colony under its control is an integral part of the kingdom, while the Polisario Front, which campaigns for the territory’s independence, demands a referendum on self-determination.

The AU’s legal counsel, in a document seen by AFP, said the nations raised “fundamental concerns that have to be taken into account”. However the decison to weigh Morocco’s request ultimately rests with heads of state.

– Regional interests –

Also on Monday, leaders will vote for a new chairperson six months after failing to decide on a replacement for South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Fragmented regional interests — whether on Morocco’s bid or divisions over membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) — will shape the choice between five candidates from Kenya, Senegal, Chad, Botswana and Equatorial Guinea.

Kenya’s foreign minister Amina Mohamed, Chad’s former prime minister Moussa Faki Mahamat and Senegal’s veteran diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily are the newcomers and frontrunners in the race.

The winner will have to obtain a two-thirds majority.

The choice of a new leader is crucial for the future of a bloc still seen as largely irrelevant in the daily lives of most Africans, and which is undergoing deep introspection on how to reform.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame was tasked with drawing up a report recommending an overhaul of the bloc, which he presented to heads of state on Sunday.

According to the Kenyan government, the “biting” report criticised “chronic failure to see through African Union decisions (which) had resulted in a crisis of implementation and a perception that the AU was not relevant to Africans”.

Kagame also slammed “over-dependence on (donor) funding.”

Efforts to obtain more financial independence are likely to gain even more significance as Africa faces uncertainty over its partnership with the United States after Trump’s vow to put “America first”.

The US is one of the main contributors to the fight against the Shabaab jihadist group in Somalia, and the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has already been hit by funding cuts from the EU.

African Union Says It Will Stop Recognising Gambia’s Jammeh From Jan.19.

The African Union will cease to recognise Yahya Jammeh as Gambia’s president as of January 19, the date he is due to hand power to the winner of the December election, the AU’s Peace and Security Council said on Friday.

Jammeh, whose authoritarian rule began with a 1994 coup, lost the December 1 election to Adama Barrow by a slim margin. He initially conceded defeat but a week later contested the result and called for another poll, refusing to give up power.

Whether Gambia can install Barrow as president is seen as a test for African democracy in a region accustomed to power changing hands at the barrel of a gun.

In a statement issued after a meeting in the Ethiopian capital, the council also warned of “serious consequences in the event that his action causes any crisis that could lead to political disorder, humanitarian and human rights disaster, including loss of innocent lives and destruction of property”.

In the past, the AU has often talked tough but backed away from any action that might lead to further conflict. However international pressure on Jammeh is growing.

A delegation of West African officials including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberian leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Ghana’s President John Mahama arrived in the capital,Banjul, on Friday.

They will try to persuade Jammeh on behalf of regional bloc ECOWAS to make an honorable exit, rather than risk dragging the country into crisis or civil war.

“Only God knows whether Jammeh will accept to step down,” Buhari said.

While ECOWAS has voiced its commitment to seeking a peaceful solution to the impasse, it has also hinted of possible military action if Jammeh stays on beyond the end of his term next week.

“This talk is very, very crucial because it is on the basis of this talk that everybody can now begin to see which option to take,” said Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, also part of the delegation.

AU defence chiefs meet in Mali over terrorism

African Union chiefs of defence staff and ministers of defence have agreed on the need to enhance cooperation to increase the effectiveness of member states’ action against threats of terrorism.

 

This is contained in a statement issued in Abuja on Friday by the Acting Director of Defence Information, Col. Rabe Abubakar. The statement stated that the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin, presented Nigeria’s counter-insurgency report at the forum holding in Bamako, Mali.

 

It said that the meeting would strengthen cooperation in furtherance of multinational approach to fighting against terrorism that was ravaging African regions.

 

“The meeting is aimed at engendering participants to partner on the enhancement of security cooperation and the conceptualisation of the African Peace and Security Architecture in the Sahel-Saharan region.

 

“The meeting will discuss terrorism which has become a global problem and requires collective approach toward addressing the menace.’’

 

It said the meeting was also focusing on threats posed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and other member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the threats of Al-Shabab in Central Africa.

 

“This is to promote a shared assessment of the threats and risks in the affected regions.

“The meeting proposes to classify the threats and risks in the regions into four major categories which include Terrorism, Organised crime (Drugs, Arms and Human Trafficking), Illegal Immigration and Separatism.”

 

It said the meeting marked a new phase in the promotion of regional security and a united front by AU members in the fight against terrorism.

 

NAN recalls that Olonisakin, since assumption of office, had been working round the clock and collaborating with other countries to tackle insecurity and terrorism in the sub-region.

 

-NAN