Ipss-Addis– Barack Obama will be the first sitting US president to visit the African Union or its predecessor the Organisation of African Union (OAU) when he makes his long-awaited visit to its headquarters in Addis Ababa next week. With the historic visit grabbing the headlines, the African Union’s relations with the United States is expected to be in focus during the President’s stay. Here are five of the pressing issues that bind the two parties together.
1. Way Forward for South Sudan
The South Sudan conflict, which started in 2013, has gone for years now without any peace agreement in sight. IGAD has tried for numerous times to mediate the two factions led by incumbent President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Rick Maachar, but the mediation processes has not yielded any tangible results so far.
The US is one of the major international actors playing its part in the South Sudan peace process. South Sudan is one of the largest recipients of U.S. bilateral aid in sub-Saharan Africa, while the US was instrumental in helping the young country gain independence and form its government. After the civil war broke out in 2013, the White House had declared that the conflict poses adanger to US national security and foreign policy. Conversely, the Sudan tribune reported that the government of South Sudan is not willing to accept the involvement of the UN and Troika countries in the peace talks. “We don’t need the Troika countries and the participation of the United Nations in the next IGAD-plus peace mediation,” a government spokesman told the website. “They are the very people and countries demanding sanctions against the people and the government of South Sudan and for that reason the UN Security Council passed the framework and resolution on sanctions based on the Troika recommendation.”
— U.S. Embassy in Juba (@USMissionJuba) July 9, 2015
The US rhetoric on South Sudan, however, has not been as assertive as it needs to be. Many believe that the US and the international community could have done more primarily in trying to find ways to stop the civil war from happening and even after the fact, in bringing the warring parties into a peace process. Could the visit by President Obama to the African Union help exert more pressure on both Salva Kiir and Rick Maachar to end the two-year conflict that took the lives of tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands?
2. Dealing with Terrorist Groups
President Obama’s visit to the African Union is also expected to focus on combatting terrorist groups across the continent where Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabab in Somalia, and AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Maghreb) continue to pose dangers not just to the peace and security of the continent, but also to the interests of the US. In addition, all these three terrorist groups have given their allegiance to Al Qaeda and ISIS further underlining the international nature of their activities.
Boko Haram is reportedly working with Al Qaeda and ISIS to smuggle and train recruits from the US, Canada, and Europe by indoctrinating them into violent Jihad and training them for attacks that could expand the so-called caliphate across North and West Africa. Even if the stakes are high for the US with regards to the threat Boko Haram poses to the regional and international security, the relation between the US and former Nigerian President GoodLuck Johnathan’s government had not been a smooth and collaborative one. Obama had refused to sell Nigeria arms and supplies critical to the fight against Boko Haram going as far as stepping in to block other Western allies from doing so and cutting petroleum purchases from Nigeria to zero. However, it would be important to see what the Obama administration’s relation with the new government of Muhammed Buhari is going to look like and how Obama’s visit would assist in dealing with Boko Haram in a more concrete manner targeting results.
Our efforts to strengthen security cooperation with our neighbours and adjust our own response to Boko Haram will yield results very soon
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) June 18, 2015
Al Shabab is also another terrorist organisation that has pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda. However, recent developments show that Al Shabab is divided and considering to shift its allegiance to ISIS. Whichever the terrorist organisation Al Shabab relates to, the US stand is expected to stay firm and consistent. It has conducted numerous drone attacks targeting influential leaders of the group and increased its diplomatic and military presence in Somalia. It was in 2013 that the US opened its diplomatic mission to Somalia based in Nairobi and has funded more than half a billion dollars since 2007 to African forces fighting Al Shabab.
3. The US Role in Peace Support Operations in Africa
The relation between the US and the AU peace support operations so far has been based on complementarity in which the US assists different operations with finance, training, logistics, and at times directly taking direct military action.
Since 2009, the US has committed to provide nearly $892 million to develop African peacekeeping capacity and strengthen African institutions. The US has trained and equipped more than a quarter-million African troops and police for service in UN and AU peacekeeping operations. The US had also announced during the US-Africa Leaders Summit in August 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. Moreover, the US is also engaged in aiding regional organisations in Africa and their brigades to the realisation of the Africa Standby Force (ASF). President Obama’s visit would be an opportunity in furthering the US’s assistance to the peacekeeping efforts of the African Union and strengthening the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA).
4. Implementing the Mali Peace Agreement
The conflict in Mali that erupted in 2012 is not just between the western interests of halting Islamic extremism in the area, that led to the 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 focus of the conflict revolves around the socio-economic issues that have been raised by the Tuareg rebels for years.
The peace deal that followed between the government of Mali and the Tuareg rebels happened only after French troops drove the Islamic extremist groups into bewilderment and the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was placed to oversee the peace in the country. However, the peace talks had failed numerous times until a peace deal was signed on June 20, 2015 which reportedly confers more autonomy to the Azwad region.
Parachèvement du processus de signature de l’Accord pour la paix et la réconciliation au Mali : Allocution de…http://t.co/WAblueRJti
— Presidence Mali (@PresidenceMali) June 22, 2015
This peace agreement needs to however be observed by both parties. Since the peace agreement tends to resolve a conflict that has been going on for decades, the relevance of it to the region is massive 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 President Obama is believed to cement the agreement and pressure both parties to respect and work for the sustenance of the agreement towards sustainable peace. The US had itself faced attacks form 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 franchise that is associated with the attacks on 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 that is posing a danger to democratic transfer of power and the precedent it continues to set when governments change constitutions to enable them to run for third terms is equally devastating. Presidential terms limits mostly for two terms are common in Africa. Since the 1990s, thirty four constitutions had provided for two-term limits; however only in 20 percent of these constitutions have term limits been complied with.
It was only last year that Burkina Faso President Blasie Compaore’s attempts to change the constitution to enable him to stay in power caused public outrage where thousands of people hit the streets to demonstrate against his stance. The mass outrage finally resulted in his resignation. The military that took power after Compaore has transferred it to a civilian transitional government with elections set for late 2015.
In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza looks set to be elected for a third term despite calls by the East African Community (EAC), the UN, and the African Union to postpone the elections beyond its latest date, July 21st.
— US Mission to the AU (@US_AU) July 2, 2015
It also seems that Rwanda, a key US ally, will allow President Paul Kagame to seek a third term after MPs voted against an amendment in the constitution this week.
The issue of third-termism will be a hot topic with seven African countries including Rwanda set for elections in the next two years (the others are Burundi and Central African Republic in 2015, and Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in 2016). The White House has already said that it opposes a third term bid by Kagame noting thatdemocracy is best advanced through the development of strong institutions, not strongmen. The US had also termed the candidacy of Nkurunziza unconstitutional. The visit therefore invites the question: will President Obama further stress the implications of the third termism on democracy and further push the AU to uphold a firm stand against third termism in the elections to come?