The African Union’s 36th Summit: Key Takeaways

The African Union – comprising 55 Member States representing the countries of the African continent – met on the 18th of February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for their annual two-day Ordinary Session of the Assembly. Their agenda included topics ranging from trade to present-day conflicts challenging parts of the continent, all issues that ultimately speak to the question of how to build and maintain peace on a continent that is no stranger to conflict and insecurity. Although not an exhaustive list, for the sake of space and given the scope of this article, below were some important takeaways from the summit, in no particular order. 

First, the Union stressed its support for democracy by re-emphasising its “zero tolerance” against “unconstitutional change” and maintaining the suspension of members who have been ruled by military leaders as a result of coups, namely Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. The Union highlighted its support for these countries’ “return to constitutional order,” however, the scope of such support and the extent to which it is in fact given remains to be seen. Normative concerns about whether enforcing democracy is the best strategy to attain peace are further questioned. Explicitly condemning the violence and unrest that has emerged in these countries and isolating them from the Union is an important, non-conflictual strategy that has the potential to exert pressure on these countries to seek peace.  

Secondly, from an economic perspective, the Union discussed and agreed to “accelerate” the implementation of the trade deal which was agreed upon back in 2020. As reported by E.W.N., the Union’s chairman, Azali Assoumani, is determined to see The African Continental Free Trade Agreement come to fruition as soon as possible. Not only will the agreement increase intra-African trade by 60% through extensive tariff reductions (trade among African nations sits currently at a mere 15%), but also, in doing so, will promote cooperative and perhaps even friendly relations between African nations. This is a notable goal given that the encouragement of interdependent relationships such as these may reduce the possibility of conflict between nations on the continent. 

Thirdly, leaders discussed the concerning situation between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.), where current tensions and conflict between the two states date back to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. According to Al Jazeera, the D.R.C. has accused Rwanda of backing one of the most prominent rebel groups, the “March 23 Movement” (M23), which has been fighting east of the D.R.C. On the other hand, Rwanda accuses the D.R.C. of supporting rebel groups that have attacked Rwanda in the past – namely, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a group notoriously associated with the Rwandan genocide. Although the U.N. has been at the forefront of peacekeeping in the D.R.C. (with its largest mission there, M.O.N.U.S.C.O.) it is soon to withdraw, placing the A.U. in the driver’s seat. Following a separate meeting on this topic at the summit, leaders discussed the options moving forward, placing peaceful, diplomatic strategies toward securing peace at the top of the list. Coordination of the various diplomatic peace talks underway to ensure a consistent, water-tight strategy of de-escalation and assisting the preparation (perhaps securitisation) of Kinshasa for upcoming national elections have been prioritised. 

The weeks and months following the summit are crucial not only for Africa but for the international community as well. The region is facing a myriad of challenges, including ongoing conflicts, the disproportionate impacts of climate change, democratic instability, slow development, and other areas of concern. These issues have far-reaching implications, and require significant attention from the global community, both now and in the future.