The 24th African Union summit, in Addis Ababa, faces the urgent need to pick up the pace in the fight against Ebola and the depredations of jihadist militants.
The summit will also elect a new chief, a vote expected to put Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe at the head of the 54-state bloc. A pariah in much of the West, he is admired on the continent as a liberation hero who has resisted sanctions. AU leaders will also vote on the first 10-year phase of a 50-year development plan.
The Ebola virus has spread from the remote jungles to many cities on the continent, and the African Union is among the international bodies that are being criticized for inaction during the critical early stages of the epidemic. AU leaders held an emergency meeting on September 8, 2014, to forge a continent-wide Ebola strategy.
The leaders will be looking for some sign of progress at the summit in efforts counter terrorism on the continent. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan wants more help from the African Union against the jihadist militants, who kidnapped some 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria in early 2014.
At 90, the Zimbabwe president is the oldest leader in Africa. He and his wife, Grace, are still under sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union. He secured the chairmanship of the 15-country Southern African Development Community (SADC) in July 2014.
The summit theme is Year of Women's Empowerment and Development towards Africa's Agenda 2063. The leaders will vote of the first stage of Agenda 2063, which the AU website describes as a "global strategy to optimize use of Africa's resources for the benefits of all Africans" over the next 50 years. Its aims include setting up a continent-wide free trade area, the free movement of people, an African high speed rail network.
Date written/update: 2015-01-19