US president Barack Obama arrived in Ethiopia Sunday for a two day visit where he will become the first American leader to address either the African Union, the 54-member continental bloc, or its predecessor the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said it would be an “historic visit” and be a “concrete step to broaden and deepen the relationship between the AU and the US.”
Ahead of Obama’s visit the Addis Ababa University’s Institute for Peace and Security Studies outlined five key areas (abridged) that may inform his historic address.
1: The way forward for South Sudan
National Security Advisor Susan Rice has confirmed this issue would be on the agenda, as the AU mulls sending troops to South Sudan. The conflict, which started in 2013, has raged for 19 months now without a peace agreement in sight. Regional bloc IGAD has tried to mediate between the two factions led by incumbent president Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, but the process has not yielded tangible results so far.
The US is a major actor in the peace process, with the new country one of the largest recipients of American bilateral aid in sub-Saharan Africa. Washington was also instrumental in helping the young country gain independence and form its troubled government.
Many analysts believe that the international community could have done more in preventing the civil war, and now after the fact, in cutting a deal. The visit by Obama could help exert more pressure on both Kiir and Machar to end the conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands.
2: Dealing with terrorist groups
Obama’s visit to the AU is also expected to focus on combating terrorist groups across the continent. In addition, some of these terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, have pledged their allegiance to Al Qaeda and ISIS, further underlining the international nature of their activities.
US President Barack Obama and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta leave after a press conference following their talks at the State House in Nairobi on July 25, 2015 .(Photo/AFP).
In Nairobi, Obama declared that his government would strongly stand with Kenya in the fight against extremism, “however long it took”.
3: The US role in peace support operations in Africa
The relationship between the US and the AU peace support operations so far been complementary, in which the US assists with finance, training, logistics, and at times direct military action. Since 2009, the US has committed nearly $900 million to develop African peacekeeping capacity and strengthen African institutions. It has trained and equipped more than a quarter-million African troops and police for service in UN and AU peacekeeping.
The US also announced during the US-Africa Leaders Summit in 2014 the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership (APRRP), a new investment of $110 million per year for 3-5 years to build the capacity of African militaries to rapidly deploy peacekeepers in response to emerging conflict. It is also engaged in aiding regional organisations in Africa and their brigades towards the realisation of the Africa Standby Force (ASF). Obama’s visit would be an opportunity in bolstering US assistance to the AU peacekeeping effort.
4: Supporting the Mali peace deal
The conflict in Mali that erupted in 2012 is not just between the western interests of halting Islamic extremism in the area, which saw military intervention of France in 2013; and the proliferation of Islamic extremist groups who hijacked the socio-economic and political questions of the Tuareg rebels. Rather, the conflict revolves around the socio-economic issues that have been raised by the Tuareg rebels for years. ??A peace deal was finally signed on June 20, 2015 which reportedly confers more autonomy to the Azawad region.
Its relevance to the region is significant not just in dealing with the structural causes of the conflict but also drying up the environment for extremist groups to work in. Thus the visit by Obama may help cement the agreement and pressure both parties to respect and work for the sustenance of the agreement. The US once faced attacks from the extremist groups that had once controlled northern Mali. US congressman Edward R. Royce had said that the Al Qaeda franchise in Mali was the fastest growing and was associated with the attacks on the US compound in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 and the kidnapping of US citizens in Algeria in 2013.
5: ‘Third-termism’ across the continent
Third termism is now one of the peace and security issues in Africa posing a danger to democratic transfer of power, and the precedent it continues to set when incumbent leaders change constitutions to enable them run for third and more terms is disappointing. Presidential terms limits mostly for two terms are common in Africa. Since the 1990s, 34 constitutions had provided for two-term limits; however only in 20% of these constitutions have term limits been complied with. In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza was elected for a third term despite calls by the East African Community (EAC), the UN, and the African Union to postpone the elections.
It also seems that Rwanda, a key US ally, is set to allow President Paul Kagame to seek a third term, which the US opposes. Six African countries including Rwanda are holding elections in the next two years (the others are Central African Republic in 2015, and Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in 2016), further elevating the issue. The visit to the AU therefore invites the question: will Obama stress the implications of the term limits on democracy and further push the bloc to uphold a firm stand against this?