The African Union Summit in 10 Questions

Dear Friends: I am re-posting this blog from last year. You may also want to read my blog on the issues on the agenda of the  upcoming 26th AU Summit (24 -31 Jan 2016):

The African Union Summit in 10 Questions

The African Union Ordinary Summit is the gathering of all key policy organs of the African union. Two ordinary Summits are held every year and each Summit consists of three 2-day meetings that always take place in the same sequence. Usually, there are 1 or 2 days breaks between these meetings. The Permanent Representatives Committee (all ambassadors representing their countries to the AU) meets first, followed by the Executive Council (Ministers of Foreign Affairs) and then the Assembly of Heads of State and Government.

When are the AU Summits Organized?

As a rule, the January Summit takes place at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The June – July Summit is held in a different Member State each year. The AU can also convene extraordinary Summits at the request of the Chairperson or a Member State with approval by a two-thirds majority of the Member States.

Who Participates in the AU Summit?

The AU Summit gathers up to 4,000 delegates, observers and media from the 54 African Countries, AU organs, partners countries, UN Agencies, other International Organizations and NGOs

How to Obtain Accreditation to the AU Summit?

Accreditation to a summit is a separate process from obtaining observer status with the AU. It is not necessary to have observer status to be accredited to a summit. Accreditation starts three months before a summit. If the summit is taking place elsewhere than Addis Ababa, the host government will usually establish a separate website with protocol information and application forms. This information is normally also posted on the AU website. There are different types of accreditations:

Delegate – Governments of Member States

Observer – NGOs, non-African governments, UN agencies

Staff – Host government, AU Commission and other AU organs

Media – national and international press

Special Guest

Security etc.

Civil society organisations wishing to obtain accreditation to a summit should request accreditation from CIDO ( at least 3 months in advance of the Summit. Other AU Directorates and Departments may also forward the names of selected partner organisations to be accredited as observers. The Office of the Chairperson of the AU Commission, where CIDO is located, draws up the final invitation list. Two types of badges are required for the summits. One is a security badge bearing your photograph. The other type (conference badge) indicates the meetings which you can attend. Normally only 2 of the later are given per organization. The Security badge allows access to all open area where you can meet delegates for interactions.

What does Observer Status Mean at the AU Summit?

Observer status at a summit does not give speaking rights, or even the right to attend more than the opening and closing ceremonies of the Executive Council and Assembly sessions but productive lobbying and advocacy can be done in the corridors of the meeting venues and at the parallel side meetings. However, the AU Commission mentions on the invitation letters that observers can be authorized to participate in working sessions of the Council dealing with agenda items of which the AU Commission considers that they are concern.

The PRC and Executive Council meetings may be more productive to engage than the Assembly of Heads of State meetings.

 How Decisions are taken at the AU Summit?

Decisions of the African Union Executive Council and Assembly are normally the result of work done months before each summit by the Commission and other organs, and in decision-making processes within individual member states. The majority of proposals presented to the Assembly have already been largely agreed before they are tabled at a summit. Documents adopted by the Assembly usually start life as a policy proposal from one of the AU Commission’s departments, from another AU organ or from a Member State. These proposals are debated in an experts’ meeting, whose members are nominated by Member States, and then in a meeting called for the relevant Ministers from Member States to approve or amend the experts’ proposals. With the exception of decisions with implications for the budget which are then considered by the PRC, the final documents from the ministerial meeting will go directly to the Executive Council and/or Assembly for adoption.

A group composed of 15 AU member states, supported by the AU Commission, form the Drafting Committee. On the basis of the various reports and recommendations from policy organs and AU members and the AU Commission, the drafting committee prepares decisions for the Executive Council and Assembly normally prior to the Summit. This draft is of course deeply debated and can be widely differ from the actual decision adopted. Reaching consensus, which is the preferred method of the AU, is not always easy; as some Member States attempt to influence the process in order to safeguard their national interests.

Are there any influencing opportunities at the AU Summit for Non State Actors?

Normally, there is very little room to catalyse deep policy changes at the Summit level only. Engagement must start from the birth of the process described above. However influence may happen on current or on-going issues or issues on which countries have failed to reach strong consensus during the process. The AU Summit presents also important opportunities for networking for further engagements and for media work to raise and draw policy makers’ attention on important and current issues. It is also a unique opportunity for organizations, donors and other personalities operating on a wide range of issues from the whole continent and elsewhere to be at the same place at the same time. Non-State actors can hold policy influencing side events during the AU Summit and have their delegates present at the AU Commission, UNECA and in various hotels where official delegates stay. A number of pre-summit consultations are held by CSOs including women groups. ECOSOCC and CIDO are also supposed to hold a CSOs pre-summit event but this has not been consistent in recent years.

What is the criteria for CSOs Accreditation at the Summit?

Access to AU meetings is not automatic. It is based on rules and procedures of the AU. Due to space constraint, the AU Commission makes choices based on the timing of application, role envisaged in the Summit, activities related to the themes of the Summit, history of association and institutional relation with the AU etc. So, not all applicants are accredited. Over the last few years, the number of CSOs invited has been increasing.

 Which Other Meetings are Held during the Summit?

 Other AU organs also hold official side meetings during summits, such as:

– The Peace and Security Council

– The African Peer Review Forum/Mechanism

– The NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation

– Sub – Committee etc.

How is Media Work Organized at the AU Summit?

The AU Commission always set up a high-tech press centre offering 24-hour internet facilities, daily press briefings, and press kits. NGOs can also request to use briefing rooms of the Commission to hold their press events. The Department of Information and Communication of the Commission helps to invite the Medias to all press events held at the Commission. Press events are an excellent way to reach policy makers during the Summit.

Hot Issues on the AU Summit Agenda

26th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State of the African Union

Addis Ababa, 24th – 31st January 2016

This update – 7th January 2016


The year 2016 has been declared by the Assembly of the African Union as the “African Year of Human Rights with Specific focus on Women’s Rights”. Both bi-annual Summits of the AU will be organised around this theme. According to the AU, the theme is premised on the realisation that 2016 marks watershed in the continent’s efforts to promote and protect human rights, also taking stock of the gains that have been made over the years by continental human rights bodies. It marks the 35th Anniversary since the adoption African Charter on Human and People’s rights; 29th Anniversary of the operationalization of the African Union Commission on Human Rights, 13 years of the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) and the 10th Anniversary of the operationalization of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

African leaders have endorsed human rights in national, regional, continental and international instruments. However, the effective implementation of key AU Human rights and governance instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Charter on Election and Democracy and Good Governance by the majority of member states is still lacking. Upholding of human and women’s rights remains an indispensable pillar for good governance, viable democratic society and sustainable development.

There is enough indication across the continent that the most violent conflicts are  a result of violations of human rights or perpetration of injustice. The holding of elections, have also failed to address governance deficits.

The AU’ 2016 theme therefore provides an opportunity for African leaders and citizens to assess the implementation of instruments, operationalization of the African Governance Architecture and other mechanisms, as well as the involvement of civil society.

The Chairmanship of the Union

From Mugabe to  Idriss Deby?- The controversial tenure of President Robert Mugabe as AU Chairperson will end in January, with a possibility of his successor being the Chadian Idriss Deby , (Central Africa) according to rumours about a consensus within the region.

Elections of the AUC – The term of office of the current African Union Commission (AUC) is ending and new elections are scheduled for the June/July 2016 Summit. It is not clear yet if the current AUC Chairperson, Dr. Dlamini Zuma, will be seeking re-election. Some rumours are indicating that she will not.  However, current Deputy Chairperson, and two other commissioners second mandate ends and are not eligible for re-elections, while the remaining six commissioners can still contest. The other burning issue about this election is the necessary review of the rules of procedures of the policy organs in order to avoid the complications observed 4 years ago during the election of the Chairperson. The upcoming summit creates avenue for political bargaining of the elections.

It is however very important that the leadership of the AU Commission is chosen on the basis of competency and experience  if we want to see effectiveness in  the realisation of  its mandate.

Burundi Conflict – The on-going conflict in Burundi will surely be heavily discussed formally and informally at the highest level during the Summit especially given the decision of the Peace and Security Council to authorise the deployment of troops to protect civilians in Burundi; a decision that the Government of Burundi has challenged and rejected. Would the Assembly of the Union use the article 4h of the AU Constitutive Act and decide a deployment of troops without the consent of Burundi? Would Burundian army fight AU troops in Burundi while at the same time Burundian’s troop are fighting on AU side to maintain peace in other African conflict affected countries? Or would the heads of state decide to give a chance to a re-energized mediation first and/or would they try to find a different/consensus solution that ensure the protection of innocent civilians? What role for the UN in this? The UNSC is yet to formally endorse the PSC decision. It is not clear why this has been delayed until now…

The other element will be the expected full report of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights following their “investigation” in Burundi. Would this report be published or hidden?

Overhaul of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) – Major change in the composition of the PSC is expected as the mandate of all current 15 members expires. This is the 2nd time in the life of the PSC that both the two and three year terms at ending at the same time.

Non-State Actors/Observers’ Space: The good news is that the African Union Commission has issued invitations to observers including CSOs, non-African countries and inter-governmental organizations. Civil Society organizations are planning also to host a People’s Summit, a Citizens’ Continental Conference prior to the Summit to discuss issues on the agenda and formulate recommendations to delegations. (Contact:

Understanding the African Union – Annual Training: Oxfam International Liaison Office to the African Union and the Directorate of Information and Communication of the African Union Commission will host their usual joint annual training for citizens and media practitioners titled “Understanding and Engaging the African Union”: (Contact:

Working Methods of the Union: In accordance to previous decisions to improve working methods of the Union, the Agenda of the Assembly will likely be simplified and time for speeches likely be reduced.

The theme of the year will be symbolically launched during the January Summit and deeply discussed during the June/July Summit. However, a number of related activities will be organised throughout the year with the AU planning to launch and conduct publications, dialogue forums and a continental conference on human rights in Africa which is expected to adopt a 10 year Action Plan on the promotion and protection of human rights on the continent to be submitted to the January 2017 Summit for adoption.

The January 2016 Summit is expected to discuss various other issues. The Summit will be, as usual organised in 3 steps:

The Permanent Representatives Committee, PRC (Ambassadors): 21-23 January

The Executive Council (Ministers of Foreign Affairs): 27-28 January

The Assembly of the AU (Heads of State and Government) 30-31 January

A number of other parallel/side meetings will also normally be held by states and non-state actors. See an unofficial calendar here:

What else will be discussed in the Summit?

Beside the official launch of the theme of the Summit “African Year of Human Rights with specific focus on Women’s Right”, no major decision is expected to be taken on this issue. The following other issues are expected to be discussed:

Alternative Source of Financing the African Union: The Assembly decided during its 25th ordinary session in south Africa to implement its decision (assembly/AU/Dec.561(XXIV) on alternative sources of funding where member states enhances ownership of the budget of the union by financing 100% of operating budget, 75% of programs and 25% of peace and security budget effective January 2016 to be phased incrementally over a five year period. A follow up discussion may happen during this summit on the level of implementation and agreement on the scale of assessment to implement the financing from member states.

I would be really surprised if this decision is implemented any time soon by AU member states with the current situation.  Currently more than 70% of the overall budget of the AU is paid by external partners and the collection of the 30% or less from the 54 members of the Union is a real challenge. In 2015 for example less that 60% of the assessed contribution of the year has been paid. More than 30 member states are currently indebted to the African Union with the current scale of assessment, let alone an increased scale…

Peace and Security: The Summit will review the state of peace and security on the continent and will adopt an omnibus decision on each situation. Hotspots include Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, DRC, Somalia, CAR, Western Sahara and Mali. It is also expected that terrorism including the situations in Nigeria and Kenya will come up.

Implementation of AU Decisions: An independent study has shown a few years ago that less than 10% of the decisions taken by the African Union are fully implemented. This situation is even getting worse and is seriously affecting the credibility of the African Union. The summit would have to take this issue seriously. The AU Commission will prepare a report on the current situation to be discussed by the Summit.

International Criminal Court: During the July 2015 Summit in South Africa, the Assembly directed the AUC Commission to ensure that the AU is added as An amicus curiae (friend of the Court) to on-going cases of African Leaders at the ICC. The Assembly is expected to hear progress on implementation of previous decisions on ICC and adopt a declaration on the same.

Common African Position on the World Humanitarian Summit: The Assembly is expected to adopt the common position of the African Union on Humanitarian Effectiveness to be submitted to the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) scheduled for Istanbul, Turkey in May 2016. The Common position was developed through a consultative process in all five regions of the African Union and is aimed at ensuring that Africa’s participation in the WSH is both united and effective.

Illicit Financial Flow and exploitation of mineral resources of Africa: Illicit outflow from Africa are estimated for about $ 50-60 billion per year. This represents about 1 billion leaving the continent every week mainly through extractive industries, tax evasion and trade mispricing. This issue should be definitely linked the financing for the development of the continent which will bring solution to the numerous other problems that we are facing.

Migration : The 2016 January summit, is expected to deliberate on migration within the continent and will further discuss the issue of freedom of movement of persons and services, as well as the need to have one Africa passport – envisioning ‘Schengen Approach’ and development of a Protocol on Free Movement of Persons. Migration has been making its way gradually towards the top of the continental and international affairs agenda. During the recent European Union (EU) – Africa Summit in Valletta in November 2015 the AU and EU identified five priority areas for future cooperation. While Africa stressed more on the need to address the root causes of mobility, the European Union concentrated on issues around returning, readmission and reintegration.

African Union Agenda 2063: Agenda 2063 has been adopted at the African Union Summit by African Heads of State and Government as the Continent’s new long-term vision for the next 50 years. An ambitious 10-years implementation plan has been adopted in South Africa in July including an Integrated High Speed Train Network, the Continental Free Trade Area, the African Passport and Free Movement of people, Unification of African Air Space, the Grand Inga Dam Project etc. The Implementation of the 10-years plan will be discussed in the summit. Also report is expected from member states with respect to domestication of the Agenda 2063.