There was no room left at Abidjan’s inns, so many presidents who were personally received by Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara when they landed here on Tuesday – President Jacob Zuma included – spent the night at the residences of their ambassadors ahead of the African Union and European Union’s fifth summit.
The summit, starting in the swish Hotel Ivoire complex on Wednesday, has seen none of the drama of three years before when then-Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe unsuccessfully urged African states to boycott the summit in Brussels. Sanctions barred him from attending.
He won’t be around this time, while his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa looks set to miss his first summit because of domestic chores. Zimbabwe is not officially on the agenda, but could arise during the course of meetings in the next two days.
Meanwhile, a modern-day fight against colonialism threatened to have the summit moved out of west Africa to its headquarters in the east. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) – also known as Western Sahara – was initially not invited by summit host Cote d’Ivoire over the objections of Morocco, which rejoined the AU in January. Morocco, which doesn’t recognise Western Sahara’s independence and claims its territory for itself, left the AU after Western Sahara joined the body in 1984.
South Africa, which sympathises with Western Sahara as the “last colony” in Africa, along with a number of other AU states, at a meeting on October 16 threatened to have the summit moved to the body’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, if Western Sahara was not invited. They said this was because of an AU rule that no AU member could be excluded from a meeting of the continental organisation.
In the end, Western Sahara did receive an invite.
No such luck for Sudanese president Omar al Bashir, who was left off the guest list.
Bashir is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Cote d’Ivoire is an enthusiastic supporter of the International Criminal Court. Its ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, and rival to Ouattara, still busy with a long-running trial on charges of crimes against humanity in front of the International Criminal Court.
Being forced to arrest Bashir would be messy, and “Cote d’Ivoire has a lot at stake when it comes to the ICC,” a senior South African official said.
The official also said the ICC would not feature too prominently in summit documents.
“The EU wanted to include the ICC in a declaration, about good governance etcetera, but the AU asked them to drop it,” he said.
Burundi has already said it would withdraw from the ICC, while South Africa’s governing ANC is set to push for withdrawal from the international court after a first attempt failed on a technicality.
Another issue that caused ructions ahead of the summit this week were the recent revelations of modern-day slavery in Libya. With the summit dealing with migration issues as part of its pro-youth focus, many countries want the AU-EU summit to condemn the practice.
Libyan officials have, however, been claiming that the CNN reports on auctions of men offered to Libyan buyers as farm labourers and sold for $400 is fake news.
Libya and Egypt are pushing for the summit declaration on this to be diluted. A South African government official said Zuma would commend the Libyan government for its announced intention to investigate the allegations made in the reports.
Some AU countries have blamed European measures to contain migrants in the African continent for the emergence of this slavery, and they have accused Europe of “bribing” African countries like Niger and Rwanda to take in some of the migrants. European officials have, however, ahead of the summit said the focus would be on “developing opportunities at home” that would prevent people from leaving the African continent.
The summit is set to continue until Thursday.