African Union leaders meeting today will tackle the continent’s hotspots at their biannual summit, even if elections for the bloc’s top job are likely to overshadow the agenda after a deadlocked vote in January.
South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will challenge the sitting chairman of the commission, Jean Ping, after neither won the required two-thirds of the vote at the last summit, leaving Ping in the job for a further six months.
They will face off again on Sunday for the top job, which Ping has held since 2008.
Both candidates have issued strongly-worded public statements ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Earlier this week, Ping dismissed reports from South African media that he was pulling out of the race to allow Dlamini-Zuma to stand unopposed, prompting the Southern African Development Community to accuse him of abusing AU resources in his election race.
Analysts say unwritten tradition is that continental powerhouses do not run for the post of AU Commission chairman — leaving smaller nations to take the job — and that South Africa’s decision to override this rule has sparked bad feeling.
If no chair is selected this time around, Ping could legally be asked to stay on as leader until the next summit in January 2013.
Security issues are also a top priority at the gathering, with leaders focusing on instability in Mali, renewed violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the ongoing crisis between Sudan and South Sudan.
Following a Peace and Security Council meeting Saturday, the AU demanded an end to “unacceptable interference” by Mali’s ex-junta following a destabilizing coup in March and called for the former junta’s dissolution.
The security arm of the pan-African bloc also called a meeting at heads of state level for regional powers seeking a solution to escalating violence in eastern DR Congo.
The council urged a speedy solution to outstanding conflicts between the Sudans at the end of the security meeting, which was attended by Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and his southern countrpart Salva Kiir.
The conference is officially themed “boosting intra-Africa trade”, the same as for the bloc’s January summit.
Officials said they had decided to limit themselves to one theme per year rather than a new one each summit, as was previously the case.
The meeting is being held in the Ethiopian capital after Malawi’s new president Joyce Banda refused to host Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes and genocide charges.