Perhaps the 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union was not so simple. The summit, which took place in Addis Ababa and brought together – according to Ethiopia’s foreign ministry statement – 35 heads of state and four government leaders saw the Israeli observer delegation walk out of the opening ceremony on Saturday.
Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Lior Hayat said, “Israel views seriously the incident in which the deputy for Africa, Ambassador Sharon Bar-Lee, was denied access to the African Union Hall despite her status as an accredited observer with an access badge.” was removed from.”
According to The Times of Israel, “during the opening ceremony security guards approached the Israeli delegation and demanded they leave.” The newspaper continued, “The video shows Israelis led by Sharon Bar-Lee, deputy director-general of the foreign ministry for Africa, leaving after several minutes of discussion.”
Hayat said: “It is sad to see that the African Union has been held hostage by some extremist countries like Algeria and South Africa, which are run, hated and controlled by Iran. We call on African countries to stand up against these actions which harm the organization of the African Union and the continent as a whole.
An African Union official told AFP that Bar-Lee had not received an invitation to attend the meeting. The African Union extended a non-transferable invitation to Alili Adamasu, Israel’s ambassador to the African Union. “It is unfortunate that the concerned person misused this gesture,” he said.
About Israel pointing the finger at South Africa and Algeria for the incident, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman Vincent Magwenya told AFP at the summit, “They should substantiate their claims.”
Influential members of the African Union expressed their disapproval of accepting Israel as an observer, saying that the decision was not in line with the African Union’s policy of support for the Palestinians.
“It is difficult to imagine Israel’s participation in the next African Union summit without consensus,” said Ahmed El-Sayed, professor of African studies in Cairo.
trade and reform
The African Union session dealt with institutional reform of the organization, not making any decisions that could be implemented on the ground.
“Very little joint African work has been achieved because of a lack of political will and the union’s fragile technical and administrative capabilities,” Al-Sayed said. “It is important to remember that the African Union does not have the power to compel its members to implement decisions,” he said.
In addition, many decisions of the Union lack a specific time frame. Meanwhile, the federally recognized free trade area at its 2020 summit did not see the light of day due to discord over deadlines for reducing customs duties, especially in the poorest countries.
The African Free Trade Area could become the largest single market in the world in terms of population. The population of the continent is estimated at 1.3 billion. A free trade area would increase intra-African trade from 15 percent to more than 50 percent, with total crude oil production of $3.4 trillion annually. It will also provide an additional 18 million jobs before 2035, and contribute to lifting 50 million Africans out of extreme poverty.
Some African countries are engaged in vicious conflicts with terrorist groups, such as in the Sahel countries of Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania. All these countries were helping France in Operation Barkhane. Mali, however, withdrew from the group following a recent military coup.
Further south, the countries of the Lake Chad Basin including Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Benin are infested by the Boko Haram terrorist organization. Horn of Africa countries suffer from attacks by Shabaab al-Mujahideen, while other terrorist groups extend their activities across the continent as far as northern Mozambique.
conflict in the great lakes
The African Great Lakes region is facing a ticking time bomb following an increase in ethnic violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially areas bordering Rwanda. Kinshasa accused the Kigali government of supporting an insurgency led by the M23 group.
A meeting of East African countries was held in Burundi ahead of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. The leaders of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo called for the withdrawal of armed forces from eastern Congo. A deadline of March 30 has been set, but nothing has happened so far.
Al-Sayed said, “It is difficult to reach a serious solution to the conflict in the Great Lakes because of the Tutsi’s wars and aspirations.” In 1994, Tutsi and Hutu engaged in a 100-day conflict, seen by many as one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. More than 800,000 people died in the conflict. “The massacre resulted in the collapse of President Mobutu Sese Seko’s regime in Zaire (present-day Congo), and is a sensitive issue for Kinshasa.”
The Great Lakes region has not seen significant stability since the independence of their countries in the early 1960s. Britain occupied Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania; Congo, Rwanda and Burundi by Belgium. During the civil war in the Congo (1997–2003), a large number of African countries faced the Great African War, which claimed the lives of millions of Africans.
The African Union on Sunday said it has a “zero tolerance” policy on unconstitutional change, referring to Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
The union suspended the membership of Mali, Guinea and Sudan in 2021 following a military takeover. It froze Burkina Faso’s membership in 2022.
“The Commission stands ready to support these Member States in their return to the constitutional order. The idea is that democracy must take root and it must be promoted and protected,” Bankole Adeoye, the AU’s commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, told a press conference on the final day of the summit.
Moussa Faki, chairman of the African Union Commission, said on Saturday: “These sanctions are not producing the expected results … On the contrary, [they] Arousing the mistrust of the countries concerned, and seeming to increase the suffering of the population.
The Regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc decided on Saturday to maintain sanctions on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso and to impose a travel ban on government officials and senior leaders in those countries.
“Sanctions could complicate the situation in Africa, a continent that is not as democratic as Europe,” said Khalid Mahmoud, a researcher on African affairs. “A country that imposes sanctions is not democratic in itself. There are challenges to African elections, the most prominent being poverty and modest technological and economic capabilities. Furthermore, there are many parts in different regions that are not accessible.
Mahmoud said that, in Mali, for example, separatist movements and terrorist groups could destroy the state, which “has accomplished almost nothing since its independence from France” in 1960. “Moreover, democratic experiments in Africa have not achieved anything significant. For example, democracy in Mali did not succeed in eliminating terrorism or separatists. Mali then sought the help of its former colonizer, France.
Today, after a communication breakdown with Paris, the new government of Mali is asking Russia for help.
The new chairman of the summit, Ghazali Othmani, president of the Comoros Islands with a population of 850,000, called for the “total cancellation” of African debt without specifying the necessary mechanism.
The former chairman of the summit, President Macky Sall of Senegal, presented a report on food in Africa, noting that most of the member states were affected by the Ukraine war.
Inflation in Africa has reached unprecedented highs, exceeding 100 percent in some countries. This year, large parts of Somalia, South Sudan, northern Kenya, northern Nigeria and Ethiopia are at risk of famine, according to the United Nations and relief organisations.
According to international reports, many sub-Saharan African countries have been severely affected by climate change over the past decade, and the protracted war in Ukraine and the subsequent rise in food prices will only exacerbate the problem.
* A version of this article appears in print in the February 23, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram weekly