Leadership battle to dominate African Union summit
Intense lobbying is underway ahead of the African Union biannual summit starting on Sunday.
ADDIS ABABA - Intense lobbying is underway ahead of the African Union biannual summit starting on Sunday, with the race for the post of AU commission chief dominating talks after a deadlocked vote in January.
Once again shaking tradition by challenging the sitting chairman, South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma takes on incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon, after neither won the two-thirds needed at the last summit, leaving Ping in the post.
They will face off again on July 15 in a bid for the head of the bloc's executive, which Ping has held since 2008.
Security issues on the continent will be a major focus at the summit, but analysts said the leadership race will once again take centre stage, with bad blood from the last contest already straining relations between some leaders.
"Who will be the next chairperson of the AU will be the main interest issue around this particular summit," said Alex Vines, Africa director at the London-based think tank Chatham House.
The July 15-16 conference was moved from Malawi after the country's new president, Joyce Banda, refused to host Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes and genocide charges.
Banda said her country's relations with international donors would suffer if Bashir was hosted on Malawian soil, and has since announced she will not attend the meeting in the Ethiopian capital.
Deputy head of the AU Commission, Kenya's Erastus Mwencha, said the crisis in Mali and bitter rows between Sudan and South Sudan, who clashed in March and April in disputed border regions, will dominate the peace and security agenda.
"We still have a long way to go to achieve our common goal of a continent free from the scourge of conflict and violence," Mwencha told reporters.
"It is imperative that we redouble our efforts to make peace happen," he added.
But some observers say the AU is often ineffective in responding to African crises, and the bloc was criticised last year for failing to effectively intervene during the Libyan revolution and the electoral crisis in Cote d'Ivoire.
Vines said the AU has shown over the past decade that it is "not well-equipped to deal with the modern challenges on the continent".
Analysts say unwritten tradition is that continental powerhouses do not run for the post of AU Commission chairman, leaving smaller nations to take the job -- and that South Africa is not helping its cause by ignoring that rule.
"I think the prospects for South Africa don't necessarily look good," said Alfredo Hengari of the South African Institute of International Affairs.
"In terms of the numbers game, I don't think that South Africa will be able to pull it off," said Hengari, saying Francophone Africa was a solid bloc in opposition to the move.
"They see South Africa as already a big country with ability to influence decisions within the AU without having the chairperson of the commission."
Countries vote as regional blocs, with South Africa the choice of the southern African region.
However, Institute for Security Studies director Jakkie Cilliers said that while Pretoria has presented Dlamini-Zuma as a regional candidate "she's still seen as a South African, and that's her major obstacle."
Last January, after intense campaigns, the vote developed into a standoff, with neither side backing down despite failing to gain enough votes to win.
"There is an intense frustration in Addis Ababa about this impasse, and a lot of that frustration is directed at South Africa because of this unwritten rule," Cilliers said, adding that only a surprise withdrawal or political settlement would break the stalemate.
If no candidate is selected this time around, Ping could legally be asked to continue as interim head until the next summit in January 2013.
Mwencha said the AU would also seek approval for its proposed $278 million (226 million euro) budget for 2013, a 1.5% increase on 2012, with more than half expected to come from donors and the remainder from member states.
The conference is officially themed "boosting intra-Africa trade" the same as for the bloc's January summit.
Officials said they had decided to limit themselves to one theme per year rather than a new one each summit, as was previously the case.