The 13th African Union summit opens Wednesday in the Libyan coastal
town of Sirte, birthplace of the continent's longest serving leader,
host Moammar Gadhafi. The pre-summit buzz is all about who is
attending, as well as how many, and which African leaders may stay away.
Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan will be there in defiance of an ICC war
crimes indictment, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and
Brazil's President Lula da Silva are also on the guest list. Talk on
the street is that North Korea is sending an observer delegation. But
perhaps the biggest news is that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may
make an appearance.
The 81-year-old Egyptian leader has not been
to a gathering of African leaders since he escaped an assassination
attempt during a summit of the Organization of African Unity in Addis
Ababa in 1995.
VOA was unable to obtain a visa to attend, but
diplomats and journalists who did say the summit site is taking on a
festival atmosphere. The pre-summit chatter is dominated by the big
name guest list.
The last summit in February drew only 21
heads of state to see Moammar Gadhafi sworn in. There was concern the
turnout this time might be no better. But with Mr. Gadhafi talking
about ramming through some of his controversial proposals for a United
States of Africa, many would-be stay-at-homes may show up after all.
sideline events have already produced an apparent breakthrough, this
one on Somalia. Reporters in Sirte say IGAD, the regional grouping of
East African countries will ask the summit to change the weak AU
peacekeeping mission AMISOM to a robust fighting force.
which comprises six East African countries is said to be looking at
reversing an earlier ruling that prohibited Somalia's neighbors from
sending troops to AMISOM. Two IGAD powers, Ethiopia and Kenya border
Somalia, and are being urged in many quarters to play a more
significant role in helping their neighbor.
Kenneth Mpysi of the
Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa says the summit come
none too soon for Somalia, the Horn of Africa nation whose future hangs
by a thread.
"I think IGAD will push the African Union to
continue and strengthen its role in terms of political will from the
wider body, now we might be seeing increased political will as the
situation aggravates. So Somalia might be one of the areas where we
might see something significant coming out of it, particularly because
there is this push from IGAD," he said.
Other security issues
slated to receive summit attention include the recent political
troubles in Niger, and unconstitutional changes of government or
attempted coups in Madagascar, Mauritania, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.
on the agenda will be an attempt by some member states to express the
continent's unified opposition to the war crimes indictment against
Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
The pending ICC
(International Criminal Court) indictments were a hot topic at the last
meeting in February. But an attempt to forge a consensus failed at a
pre-summit session in Addis Ababa last month, when only a handful of
countries supported a Libyan and Sudanese backed initiative to withdraw
in unison from the ICC's founding agreement.
The three-day Sirte summit begins with an public session Wednesday, and closes with another open meeting Friday.