African leaders are meeting next week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to review the political and socio-economic situation on the continent in an effort to promote deeper integration among member states.
The 19th Ordinary Assembly of African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government set for 15-16 July is held under the theme “Boosting Intra-African Trade”.
However, one of the major issues likely to dominate the summit is the election for the new chairperson of the AU Commission.
The AU Commission is the executive arm of the union, and is tasked with driving the African development and integration agenda on behalf of the member states.
At the last summit, elections to choose a new chairperson were suspended after no winner emerged despite several rounds of voting.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC)-endorsed candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is also the South African Minister of Home Affairs, is contesting for the post against the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon.
SADC says the time for southern Africa to lead the AU Commission is now, since all other regions in Africa have had the opportunity to occupy the top post.
However, there is an unwritten agreement among AU member states that leading nations on the continent such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa should not lead the AU Commission.
The outcome of the hugely anticipated elections is likely to change the politics of Africa in many ways.
For example, if elected, Dlamini-Zuma would become the first woman to lead the AU Commission.
And failure by Ping to retain his post will also send a strong message to the international community that Africa is not ready to entertain any outside interference in its development agenda.
This follows much disquiet among many African leaders over Ping’s alleged poor handling of recent conflicts on the continent including in Sudan and Mali.
Other issues on the summit agenda include trade, food security, peace and climate change. According to a draft agenda of the summit, African leaders are expected to discuss measures to improve intra-African trade as a crucial instrument for meaningful regional integration, connectivity and development.
Africa is targeting to establish a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by 2017, which is expected to contribute significantly to sustainable economic growth, employment generation, poverty reduction, inflow of foreign direct investment, industrial development and better integration of the continent into the global economy.
The leaders are expected to come up with solutions that will address factors constraining African trade such as restrictive customs procedures, administrative barriers and infrastructure bottlenecks.
The low intra-regional trade figures are mainly a result by poor transport infrastructure on the continent, which increases the costs of transporting products across borders.
In this regard, the summit is expected to give leaders the chance to discuss ways of fund-raising for the US$310 billion required to upgrade infrastructure on the continent over the next 30 years.
When fully operational, the proposed CFTA is expected to increase African intra-regional trade from the present 10 percent to about 40 percent.
With regard to climate change and sustainable development, the leaders are set to discuss, among other things, the outcome of the recent Rio+20 Summit on sustainable development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The summit failed to produce a more binding international agreement on sustainable development, and instead came up with the “The Future We Want” declaration, which many say lacks the political will to address emerging challenges such as hunger and climate change.
Also on the agenda for the summit is the African Leaders’ Malaria Alliance Forum (ALMA), under which the heads of state and government are to utilize their collective power to keep out the scourge of malaria.
On food security, leaders are expected to review the implementation of various programmes to boost production. These interventions include the allocation of substantial budgets to agriculture and investment in technology such as irrigation and improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.
With respect to the political situation on the continent, leaders are expected to receive reports on ongoing mediation processes in the political problems in Somalia, Madagascar, Guinea Bissau and Niger.