African leaders are gathering in Addis Ababa for a three-day summit that was to have been about spurring the continent's economic potential. But as VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from the summit site in the Ethiopian capital, the troubles in Kenya, Somalia and Sudan dominate the agenda.
The summit is attracting about 40 heads of state or government from the African Union's 53 member states. Leaders from Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Ghana's John Kufour and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki will be there.
They will be joined, for the first day at least, by an equally distinguished group from the United Nations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will address the opening summit session Thursday. He is accompanied by the Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno, along with his special representatives to conflict zones such as Darfur, Ivory Coast, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Ethiopia-Eritrea border.
And in a nod to the world body's growing involvement in Africa, the summit is being held at the headquarters of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa.
The theme of the summit is industrialization, and the head of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization Kandeh Yumkella will be a key speaker. Many leaders attending the summit will be concerned about conflict and political turmoil.
Yumkella, a native of Sierra Leone, says he will tell those leaders that the long term, and most urgent solution to these conflicts is unleashing the power of the private sector to create jobs for the newly-arriving masses in Africa's major cities.
"By 2050, half of Africa's population will live in urban areas, a lot of them youth unemployed. That will create instability. We see the evidence already, of the youth heading up north to head for Europe, crossing from Senegal to the canary islands. It's not just political instability. It's a lack of hope and opportunity. And when you look at Liberia, Freetown, all the former conflict countries, the cities are packed with unemployed youth, some of them former child soldiers. So the urgency of job creation is critical," he said.
Pre-summit discussions have focused not on economics, but on Africa's trouble spots. U.N. peacekeeping chief Guehenno met with Sudanese and AU representatives about speeding deployment of the hybrid United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki briefed southern African leaders on his efforts to ease Zimbabwe's longstanding political crisis, and Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula spoke to his fellow ministers about his country's post-election political turmoil.
Wetangula welcomed the AU mediation effort led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan , and the support of the East Africa group of nations led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. But he said ultimately, the necessary reconciliation can only be achieved by Kenyans.
"We have faith in the AU involvement. We have faith in the regional involvement of President Museveni as the chairman of the East African Community, but above all, this problem can be and must be solved by Kenyans themselves," he said.
Somalia's Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, two months into the job, addressed a pre-summit meeting of the Somalia Contact Group to present a new four-point peace plan. Those attending included U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazier and AU Peace and Security Commissioner Said Djinnit. Afterward, Frazer hailed Mr. Hussein's appointment as a positive step towards bringing stability to a country that has been virtually ungovernable since the early 1990s.
"The Contact Group meeting is important not only because it comes on the eve of the AU summit, but also because of the positive developments that are taking place in Somalia with the appointment of the new Prime Minister Nur Adde Hassan Hussein and the appointment of his new cabinet," she said.
The African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Said Djinnit says the long term objective of Prime Minister Gedi's four-point peace plan is to persuade the United Nations to send a peacekeeping mission to Somalia. A previous U.N. mission was abandoned in 1995 in the face of uncontrolled violence.
The summit is also expected to elect new leadership. Diplomats say Tanzania is likely to be chosen to replace Ghana as president of the organization. The post of AU Commission Chairperson is being hotly contested between Gabon's Foreign Minister and former U.N. General Assembly President Jean Ping and Zambia's highly-respected ambassador to Washington Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika.