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AU Summit Meetings Underway in Addis

African Union Commission chairman Jean Ping addresses an emergency summit of the AU Peace and Security Council in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, August 2011. (file photo)

African Union summit meetings officially kicked off in Ethiopia’s capital Monday with ministerial gatherings, and an agenda that includes a leadership battle.

The session in Addis Ababa began with a minute of silence dedicated to the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and the late African commissioner Elisabeth Tankeu.

African Union spokesman Noureddine Mezni said Monday's and Tuesday’s meetings primarily are discussions designed to set the groundwork for the African Union’s 18th summit a week from now.

“Whatever they are doing here, it is at the level of draft, because they have to submit all the outcome of their work to their ministers, to the executive council, who is supposed to take decisions on the different issues. They are doing what you can consider as preparatory work for the ministers, and the ministers will do the same for the heads of state,” said Mezni.

Busy agenda on tap

Planned are discussions on development reports, cooperation among African countries, an evaluation of the Special Emergency Fund for Drought and Famine in Africa, and other issues.

Then, from January 26 to 27, the Executive Council is expected to look at the work of the AU Commission during the past six months, as well as discuss reports from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, among other things.

The Assembly of the African Union itself, which heads of state will attend, will be held on January 29 and 30. The theme of this year’s AU Summit is “Boosting Intra-Africa Trade.”

One of the highlights in this year’s summit is the inauguration of the new African Union Conference Center financed by China and built by Chinese labor.

Leadership battle looms

The real focus, though, is likely to be the election of the next head of the African Union. Current chairman Jean Ping's bid for a second term is being challenged by South African home minister and former foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Observers say there has been a lot of bitter politicking in this campaign. African Union spokesman Mezni said he thinks there is no excessive tension.

“It is normal in any campaign, even if I’m in America now about the Republican party and so on. Election is election everywhere, whatever is the nature,” said Mezni.

Heads of state are expected to make the selection by secret ballot.