This past week saw important meetings of four important regional and continental organizations in Africa. Political crises, particularly in North Africa and the Sahel region, topped the agenda for the African Union, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), and the Arab Maghreb Union. Meanwhile, the East African Community reportedly rejected Sudan’s bid for membership.
The African Union:
African Union Chairman Boni Yayi will visit some of the continent’s conflict areas including Sudan and South Sudan, Mali and Libya for direct talks, an aide said on Saturday.
Yayi, also president of Benin, had been hosting an informal summit of the continent’s leaders in Cotonou focusing on security, especially in the Sahel, piracy and the threat posed in Nigeria by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
Over the course of its two-day summit in Abuja, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, discussed the region’s many crises, as well as its successes. On Friday, the confederation also elected Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara as its new chairman.
The litany of crises facing the region could not be overlooked. Said Djinnit is the head of the United Nations Office for West Africa. He urged ECOWAS states to exercise the same vigilance and cooperation they have shown so far.
“Despite the complexity of the region’s immediate problems – namely, food crisis in the Sahel, new flow of refugees, increased numbers of smuggled arms in the fallout of the Libyan crisis, piracy, and terrorist activities – the leadership of the region spared no effort to address them, with the support of the international community,” said Djinnit.
(In related news, the AU and ECOWAS will be sending a team to Senegal this week in an attempt to help defuse pre-election tensions.)
The Arab Maghreb Union:
Ministers from Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) member states Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya convened Saturday in Rabat, the first high-level conference since 1996.
During the meeting, Algeria proposed to boost cooperation with North African neighbours against terror and organised crime.
Algeria sought “true and effective Maghreb cooperation in the fields of terrorism, organised crime, illegal arms and drug trafficking and clandestine immigration,” Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci told counterparts in Rabat.
The meeting is also the first since two members, Tunisia and Libya, went through the upheavals of the Arab Spring.
Finally, members of the East African Community met last Wednesday. They rejected Sudan’s bid for membership for two reasons, according to one account: first, on geographical grounds (too far) and second, because it applies shari’a, which no other member state does.
It will be interesting to see whether there is more momentum toward regional and continental integration in the wake of all the political changes that 2011 brought.