"Shared Values" is the nominal theme of an African Union summit beginning this week in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. But as always, the summit theme is being overshadowed by pressing issues of peace and security.
This 16th AU summit is expected to draw approximately 25 heads of state and government from among its 53 member countries. Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir will be here, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe will try to maintain his perfect attendance record, and other regulars such as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi are also expected.
The summit will open with a discussion on shared values, such as human rights and the rights of citizens to a representative democracy.
Critics say these summits often serve as a platform from which African dictators and rights abusers portray themselves as champions of peoples’ rights while ignoring those values back home.
They point to an AU meeting four years ago at which leaders agreed to a landmark convention setting out rules for the democratic transfer of power, and another in 2009 on the rights of internally displaced people. Both were signed with great fanfare, but have not gone into force because member state parliaments have failed to ratify them.
The chairman of an AU advisory board on corruption, Berhe Costantinos, says the continental body’s failure to live up to the grand promises of its leaders is causing a credibility gap.
"The AU is in crisis because most of the conventions that would ensure democratic development and people’s rights have not been ratified, and if they have been ratified they have never been implemented," Costantinos said.
The summit is also due to take up several urgent political issues. A special mini-summit on Ivory Coast is slated for Sunday, co-chaired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping.
Ivory Coast will not be represented formally at the summit. Its AU membership was suspended when the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing a November 28 election. But AU diplomats say representatives of president-elect Alassane Ouattara may be allowed to make a presentation Friday at a special heads-of-state meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council.
The Peace and Security Council meeting may also hear from special AU mediator for Ivory Coast Thabo Mbeki. A Johannesburg newspaper this week quoted what it said was a leaked copy of the former South African president’s report, which said only a face-to-face dialogue between the two would-be presidents could break the country’s political deadlock.
A second mini-summit on Sudan will feature both President Bashir and Southern Sudanese leader Salva Kir. But Western observers say the focus is likely to be on Darfur, rather than the recent southern Sudanese independence referendum.
African ambassadors say the summit is likely to approve a statement expressing deep regret at the U.N. Security Council’s decision not to defer International Criminal Court indictments against Sudan’s President Bashir.
That follows last month’s call by Kenya’s parliament for a pullout from the ICC to protest indictments against six prominent Kenyans suspected of masterminding the ethnic violence that followed the country’s 2007 presidential election.
Kenyan officials say they will ask the summit to approve a resolution urging the Security Council to order suspension of the Kenyan prosecutions. But they will not follow parliament’s call for a withdrawal from the ICC.
In addition to U.N. Secretary-General Ban, a number of prominent non-African dignitaries are scheduled to attend. French President Nicolas Sarkozy will deliver the keynote summit address.
The U.S. delegation will be led by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. The non-governmental U.S. contingent includes Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates.