A recent flare-up of deadly violence in South Sudan will dominate the agenda as heads of state gather Sunday for a key African Union summit in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
South Sudan is just one of the crises shaking the continent that African leaders will seek to confront as divisions emerge about who should guide the AU for the next four years.
The United Nations has warned of tension and the possibility of fresh fighting in Juba, where a shaky ceasefire has held since late Monday.
The AU’s goal of bringing peace to the continent by 2020 has been dealt a hammer blow by the fighting that raged for four days in the South Sudanese capital Juba, leaving hundreds dead and forcing 40,000 to flee their homes.
The recent violence in the capital echoed the fighting that triggered the civil war and marks a fresh blow to last year’s deal to end the bitter conflict that began when President Salva Kiir accused ex-rebel and now Vice President Riek Machar of plotting a coup.
“What has happened in South Sudan is totally unacceptable,” said the outgoing chair of the AU Commission, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on Wednesday.
South Sudan’s leaders must “protect” their people and not “be the cause” of their suffering, she added.
The violence has plunged into doubt a peace deal struck in August 2015 between President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader and now Vice President Riek Machar.
Lack of stature
But efforts to secure peace in South Sudan will be further complicated by divisions over who should succeed Dlamini-Zuma, ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, to become the AU’s new commission chair.
Several countries on the continent have indicated that they do not back any of the leading candidates for the job, arguing that they “lack stature”.
Now all three of the leading candidates — Botswana’s Foreign Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, her Guinean opposite number Agapito Mba Mokuy and Uganda’s former vice president Specioza Wandira-Kazibwe — look like they may fail to get a majority of votes from the African Union’s 54 members.
If that happens the vote could be abandoned and re-run at the next AU summit in Addis Ababa in January 2017.
Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily, the UN’s Special Representative for Central Africa, has been mooted as a possible alternative as has former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete.
“The commission is ready for the vote. There are rumours, but it’s up to the heads of state to decide if they want to vote or not,” said African Union Commission spokesman, Jacob Enoh Eben.
The AU will also seek to hammer out a solution to the crisis engulfing Burundi where a spate of killings have rocked the country since President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announced in April 2015 that he would seek a third term.
On Wednesday a former Burundian government minister and spokeswoman Hafsa Mossi was shot dead by unknown assailants in the capital Bujumbura according to police.
Several senior military officers close to the president have also been assassinated since the start of the crisis.
A fresh effort to end the dragging political crisis crashed Wednesday when the government shunned peace talks in Tanzania at the last minute due to the presence of leading opposition and civil society figures.
Also on the crowded AU agenda will be the ongoing fight against the Boko Haram jihadist group that has its roots in northern Nigeria but has carried out attacks across the Lake Chad region.
Recent violent incidents in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also expected to feature in talks between the African leaders.
The divisions over how to prepare the AU to confront Africa’s challenges have revealed uncertainty at the heart of the organisation as it confronts the lack of clout that it has in enforcing its decisions and resolutions.
“More than 80 percent of the African Union’s decisions do not get further than Addis Ababa’s airport,” said Desire Assogbavi, Oxfam’s representative to the AU.
The AU will also unveil a symbolic “African passport” — a step toward freedom of travel on the continent that, along with peace, the AU hopes to bring to all Africans by 2020.