Coups, Covid-19 and climate test leaders at African Union summit

People walk next to a banner set as part of the preparations in the city for hosting the African Union summit. PHOTO: AFP

ADDIS ABABA (REUTERS) - African leaders gather at an African Union (AU) summit this weekend to try to forge a coordinated response to the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and a spate of military takeovers from Sudan to the Sahel region.

The bloc, formed 20 years ago to promote international cooperation and harmonise member states' policies, has struggled to address six coups or attempted coups in Africa over the past 18 months, and the power grabs are high on the summit agenda.

Heads of state from continental heavyweight Nigeria, new AU chair Senegal and Kenya are due to attend, although absentees will include some major figures, like President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni.

"Peace and security is seriously threatened in several of our Regions and within some Member States," AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Tuesday (Feb 1) in a statement.

The AU suspended Burkina Faso on Monday following a Jan 24 military coup there.

The leaders will also discuss the bloc's relationship with Israel.

In July, Mr Faki unilaterally accepted Israel's request for observer status at the AU, prompting criticism by South Africa, whose ruling party strongly backs the Palestinian cause.

The issue was not resolved at an October meeting and will now be discussed by heads of state. It is unclear if leaders will vote or merely discuss the issue.

Nigeria, Algeria, South Africa, and the Southern African regional bloc are pushing for Israel's status to be revoked, according to an internal memo prepared for the summit and seen by Reuters.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Morocco and Togo support Israel's presence, one African diplomat said.

Some diplomats fear the Israel dispute might shift attention from pressing issues like the conflict in Ethiopia and unrest in Sudan following a coup in October.

The leaders will also discuss climate change, which is aggravating floods, droughts, hot weather and locust invasions, threatening food supplies and driving up hunger and migration.

The war in Ethiopia, which broke out in November 2020 and has killed thousands, "remains the elephant in the room", said another diplomat who works for the AU.

The meeting in Ethiopia's capital comes just three months after the country declared a state of emergency after rebellious northern forces threatened to march on the capital, and Western and African embassies evacuated citizens.

The government has since announced plans to lift the emergency, and the rebellious forces have mostly retreated back into the Tigray region, although fighting continues in Afar.

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