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): https://assodesire.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/hot-issues-on-the-au-summit-agenda/

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 (CIDO@africa-union.org) 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.

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