The leaders of the 54-nation African Union (AU) meet at the bloc's headquarters in Addis Ababa for the first of two 2016 summits. The official theme is human rights, but a showdown with Burundi over peacekeepers and questions about the readiness of the new African Standby Force (ASF) represent more pressing business.
The leaders will work on Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, 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 and an African high-speed rail network.
In December the AU told Burundi, which warns it will not accept foreign soldiers, to take 5,000 AU peacekeepers or be ready to receive them anyway. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in the United States notes that unlike many international organizations, the AU does not recognize the sovereignty of its member states as unlimited. It has criteria for intervention, according to the Council, and has been increasingly willing to intervene as it has developed. Grounds for uninvited AU intervention include war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Burundi is described as being on the brink of civil war over the recent re-election of President Pierre Nkurunziza for a third term.
The standby force plan is for each of the continent's five regions to have its own peacekeeping brigade on standby by the end of 2015. The need for an effective peacekeeping operation becomes more urgent by the day as jihadist activity has surged, while Africa's ethnic and territorial conflicts show no sign of shrinking in number or scale. Seven of the world's bloodiest conflicts are in Africa, according to a Mar 2015 analysis from Le Monde diplomatique. The leaders at the summit can expect an update on the progress, which has been uneven, in setting up the standby force.
The analysis also observed that the AU's 54 countries have limited technical capabilities and the lack of a common vision of peace. The setbacks to the full-fledged peacekeeping operation envisioned by the AU include underfunding and the differing priorities and sometimes conflicting interests of the nations in each brigade.
The summit is also expected to choose a new chairperson to replace Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
Date written/update: 2015-12-28