Heads of state and government officials from across Africa have gathered in Ethiopia’s capital for talks primarily focused on ways to end to regional violence, including the conflicts in South Sudan and Libya.
The 33rd African Union (AU) summit, which opened on Sunday in Addis Ababa, is being held under the theme “Silencing the Guns: Creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development”.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is taking over from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as AU chair, announced on Sunday that he planned to host two summits in May: one focused on conflict resolution and the other on implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
“We will focus our efforts on conflict resolution across the African continent, especially those experiencing protracted conflict,” said Ramaphosa, who has has identified the conflicts in South Sudan and Libya as priorities.
On Saturday night, Ramaphosa met separately South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, in an effort to jumpstart mediation efforts to form a power-sharing government in South Sudan, which descended in a ruinous civil war in 2003 that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The two men face a February 22 deadline to form a government, but they have already missed two previous designated dates to settle their differences.
On ending the conflict in Libya, the AU has consistently called for greater involvement during peace processes led primarily by the United Nations.
At a summit in Brazzaville in late January, African leaders pledged to hold a reconciliation forum for Libya’s warring parties.
In response to a question by Al Jazeera about the possibility of the creation of an African force for peace in the North African country, Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who chairs the AU’s High Level Committee on Libya, said the idea is being discussed.
“Africans have been complaining that they have been marginalised in terms of contributing to peace in Libya,” Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Vall, reporting from Addis Ababa, said, adding that the presence of UN chief Antonio Gutteres at the two-day summit “is bringing a strong message of solidarity” to the bloc’s leaders.
Addressing the gathering, Guterres said the world body’s partnership with the AU was “of paramount importance” and stressed the UN’s full support for the AU’s “landmark initiative” of silencing guns.
“Ultimately, Silencing the Guns is not just about peace and security, but also inclusive sustainable development and human rights,” he said.
He highlighted “three challenges of particular urgency” in Africa: eradicating poverty, tackling the climate crisis and silencing guns.
Meanwhile Moussa Faki, chairperson of the African Union Commission, warned that “the persistence of terrorism threatens the collapse of some member states and must be eradicated”.
The AU summit also comes amid a dispute between Egypt and Sudan on one side and Ethiopia on the other over a dam built by the latter on the Blue Nile, which Cairo fears will reduce its supply of water.
After several meetings hosted by Washington, the three states said a final agreement will be signed in late February.
The AU has announced that the Democratic Republic of the Congo would replace South Africa as AU chair in 2021.