ADDIS ABABA - The African Union will mull a divisive bid by Morocco to rejoin the bloc at a summit next week where stagnating South Sudan peace efforts will also top the agenda.
The AU’s 54 member states will gather in Addis Ababa on Monday for a packed two-day meeting in which they will also have to elect a new chairperson -- after failing to do so at a summit six months ago.
Analysts say the election is likely to be complicated by fractures over key issues such as membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and whether Morocco should be allowed back in the club.
Morocco quit the bloc 33 years ago in protest at its decision to accept Western Sahara as a member, but announced its intention to rejoin last July.
King Mohammed VI has since been criss-crossing the continent lobbying for support.
"Morocco’s economic expansion on the continent is important for it... the AU has become more and more relevant so Morocco realises it cannot drive an agenda on the continent without being in the AU," said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a consultant with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Addis Ababa.
’Not a done deal’
The membership of affluent Morocco could also be a boon for the AU, which lost a key financer in late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and has long sought financial independence. Currently foreign donors account for some 70 per cent of its budget, according to the ISS.
However Louw-Vaudran highlights that "it is still not a done deal", with heavyweights such as Algeria and South Africa lobbying hard against the move.
Both have long supported the fight for self-determination by Western Sahara’s Polisario independence movement. Morocco maintains that the former Spanish colony which it annexed in 1975, is an integral part of the kingdom.
"The question now is whether Morocco’s reintegration means Western Sahara will now be excluded. This is where there are very clear divisions in the AU," said Senegal-based political analyst Gilles Yabi.
Another issue which has divided leaders on the continent is growing anger with the ICC. Burundi, South Africa and The Gambia decided late last year to pull out of the court, claiming it unfairly targets African nations.
Others such as Kenya have threatened to follow suit while Botswana and Senegal have argued in favour of the court.
Fragmented regional interests are likely to make it harder for one of five candidates from Kenya, Senegal, Chad, Botswana and Equatorial Guinea to win a two-thirds majority and be elected chairperson of the AU Commission.
Half the bloc abstained from a vote in July last year with many claiming the candidates suffered from a "lack of stature".
Kenya’s foreign minister Amina Mohamed, Chad’s former prime minister Moussa Faki Mahamat and Senegal’s veteran diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily are the newcomers and frontrunners in the race.
They are vying to replace South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is credited with advancing women’s issues, but is seen to have dropped the ball on peace and security.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has been tasked with overhauling a lumbering bloc weighed down by bureaucracy, and is set to present his first report on suggested reforms during the summit.
’Out of ideas’
As usual several crises on the continent will be on the summit agenda, such as turmoil in Libya, radical Islamism in Mali, Somalia and Nigeria and ongoing political tensions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
One of the most pressing is the conflict in South Sudan, where ethnic violence continues with no solution in sight. Tens of thousands have died since war broke out in 2013 and more than 3.1 million have been displaced.
A 4,000-strong regional protection force mooted at the last AU summit has been mired in delays and disputes as South Sudan’s government insists the force is no longer needed.
"There hasn’t been a sense of urgency to save lives and get this force up and running. I think it is just South Sudan fatigue, they are out of any ideas of how to solve this," said Louw-Vaudran.
A new era
The summit comes after several shake-ups on the international stage: the election of US President Donald Trump and a new head of the UN, Antonio Guterres, who will be at the summit.
Louw-Vaudran said even though it wasn’t an official agenda item, the Trump presidency -- whose vow to put America first has raised fears of how it will approach its relationship with Africa -- will be a hot topic at the summit.
The US is one of the main contributors to the fight against Shabaab in Somalia, and the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has already been hit by funding cuts from the EU. - AFP