The African Union is seeking its voice more than ever

(Addis Ababa) New coups d’état, crisis in Senegal, negotiations for the rotating presidency: the summit of the African Union (AU) is being held this weekend in a difficult context, at a time when the organization wants carry the voice of the continent within the G20, which it joined in September.

Two new member states will be missing from the annual meeting of heads of state and government in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa: Gabon and Niger, suspended after coups, as are Mali, Guinea, Sudan and Burkina Faso since 2021 and 2022.

“These new blows (…) as well as the situation in Senegal”, in crisis since President Macky Sall canceled the presidential election on February 3 three weeks before the election, should appear on the summit menu, says Nina Wilén, director of the program Africa from the Egmont Institute for International Relations, based in Brussels.

While in 2024, 19 presidential or general elections are planned on the continent, will the African Union go beyond its usual reminder to respect democratic rules?

“I doubt there will be any strong decisions,” says Wilén, because “the resistance of member countries who do not want to see precedents that could harm their own interests” prevents the AU from “making its voice heard”.

The organization has so far had “very little influence on countries that have suffered recent coups,” she notes.

Towards a Mauritanian presidency

The AU managed to avoid a crisis by defusing tensions ahead of the summit over the succession of Comorian head of state Azali Assoumani to the rotating presidency of the organization.

This appointment has long been blocked by the irreconcilable antagonism between Morocco and Algeria, the two heavyweights in the North Africa region who have been given the post this year.

After months of intense negotiations, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani should be elected by his peers on Sunday.

But the episode illustrated the divisions which weaken the pan-African organization, which aims to make Africa heard within the G20 which it joined in September.

By joining the G20, “the AU will become an actor in international politics. But which actor? “, asks Paul-Simon Handy, regional director for East Africa at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Who will represent the AU within the G20? How will Africa’s positions be determined? These issues are also expected to be addressed during two days of discussions, most of them behind closed doors.

The AU will have to “be able to develop an African position (…). But how ? We will have to find working methods quickly,” notes Paul-Simon Handy.

Developing a consensus between 55 member states (including six suspended) with divergent interests “will not be easy at all,” notes Solomon Dersso, director of the Amani Africa think tank, based in Addis Ababa.

“It is not impossible,” he adds: “As in the EU, this requires making permanent negotiation and compromise imperatives.”


But the organization’s room for maneuver could be limited in the face of security challenges on the continent, undermined by a multitude of multifaceted armed conflicts (Sudan, Sahel, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc.), some of which are many years old. .

“Member states are turning inward, tightly protecting their sovereign prerogatives instead of investing in collective security and countering geopolitical tensions that undermine cooperation efforts,” laments the International Crisis Group (ICG). .

The question will arise, for example, after a resolution passed at the end of December by the UN Security Council, which accepted that its obligatory contributions finance peace operations carried out by the AU.

But the resolution limits this funding to 75%. It is up to the AU – and its partners, notably the EU – to find the remaining 25%.

During this summit, the heads of state “will have to think about the implications” of this resolution, believes Paul-Simon Handy, and in particular decide whether it puts the AU “back into orbit (…) to the detriment of regional economic communities”. some of whom have deployed military missions in recent years, outside the framework of the organization.


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