ADDIS ABABA - Israel accused arch-foe Iran of orchestrating the ejection of one of its senior diplomats from the African Union summit on Saturday, with the help of Algeria and South Africa.
The incident occurred on the first day of the summit, where leaders are discussing a slew of challenges facing the continent, including a record drought in the Horn of Africa and several deadly conflicts.
A video circulating on social media shows guards escorting Israel’s deputy director-general for Africa, Mr Sharon Bar-li, out of the AU assembly, which opened on Saturday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman described the incident as “severe”, noting Mr Bar-li was “an accredited observer with an entry tag”.
“It is saddening to see the African Union taken hostage by a small number of extremist states like Algeria and South Africa, which are driven by hatred and controlled by Iran,” he added.
The incident follows a long-running dispute over Israel’s accreditation as an observer to the 55-member bloc in 2021.
The decision by AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat triggered loud protests by powerful member states, notably South Africa.
Last year’s AU summit suspended a debate on whether to withdraw the accreditation and established a committee to address the issue, but the bloc has not said whether it would be discussed this year.
An AU official told AFP the individual who was “asked to leave” was not invited to attend the meeting, with a non-transferable invitation only issued to Israel’s ambassador to the AU, Mr Aleli Admasu.
‘Dysfunctional financial system’
“It is regrettable that the individual in question would abuse such a courtesy,” Mr Faki’s spokeswoman, Ms Ebba Kalondo, said.
Asked about Israel’s accusations, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Mr Vincent Magwenya, told AFP: “They must substantiate their claim.”
All eyes are on the AU to see if it can achieve ceasefires in the Sahel and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where M23 rebels have seized swathes of territory and sparked a diplomatic row between Kinshasa and Rwanda’s government, which is accused of backing the rebels.
At a mini-summit on Friday, leaders of the seven-nation East African Community pushed for all armed groups to withdraw from occupied areas in the eastern DRC by the end of next month and for an immediate ceasefire.
On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged African leaders to take “action for peace”.
“I am deeply concerned about the recent rise in violence by armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the rise of terrorist groups in the Sahel and elsewhere,” he told the summit.
“The mechanisms for peace are faltering.”
Mr Guterres said other challenges faced by the continent of 1.4 billion people included “a dysfunctional and unfair global financial system that denies many African countries the debt relief and concessional financing they need” and charges “extortionate” interest rates.
Comoros President Azali Assoumani, leader of the small Indian Ocean archipelago of almost 900,000 people, echoed those views as he took over the one-year rotating AU chairmanship from Senegal’s Macky Sall.
Mr Assoumani called for a “total cancellation” of African debt but did not elaborate on how this could be achieved.
Backsliding of democracy
Mr Guterres also announced that the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund would release US$250 million (S$330 million) to support some of the most vulnerable people in the world, including those at risk of famine in the drought-hit Horn of Africa.
He said 339 million people were in need of humanitarian aid, up 25 per cent on last year.
Junta-ruled Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, which have been suspended from the AU, cannot participate in this weekend’s summit, but have sent diplomats to Addis Ababa to lobby for readmission.
“In some countries, hard-won democratic gains are disappearing,” Mr Guterres warned.
Mr Faki had announced there would be a meeting of the AU’s Peace and Security Council to discuss lifting their suspension but gave no date.
He told the summit on Saturday that the bloc needed new strategies to counter the backsliding of democracy.
“Sanctions imposed on member states following unconstitutional changes of government... do not seem to produce the expected results.”
The summit, largely held behind closed doors, was also aiming to kickstart the faltering African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) launched in 2020.
African nations currently trade only about 15 per cent of their goods and services with each other, and the AfCFTA aims to boost that by 60 per cent by 2034 by eliminating almost all tariffs.
But implementation has fallen well short of that goal, with governments at odds over tariff reductions. AFP