Leaders were scheduled to meet in Johannesburg yesterday for an African Union summit which will be dominated by the political unrest in Burundi and the migration crisis in the continent.
Burundi has been plunged into a period of instability sparked by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s push to run for a third five-year term.
Violent protests have left about 40 people dead and 100,000 people have fled the country, raising peace and security concerns in the region.
Other crises like the threat posed by Islamist militant groups are also on the agenda in Johannesburg.
“The situation in Burundi is still unresolved... and Nigeria, which is supposed to be an important player, still has challenges around Boko Haram,” South African Institute of International Affairs academic Tjiurimo Hengari said. “I see the next two years being very challenging, especially in light of a new threat that is emerging on the horizon — the issue of constitutional revisions to allow sitting heads of state third terms and fourth terms.”
However, the summit, which often fails to grapple with thorny issues, is likely to be overshadowed by the expected presence of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court over war crimes charges, faces arrest if he enters South African, and has not visited the country since his indictment by the court in 2009 and 2010.
As a signatory to the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court, South Africa is obliged to arrest the Sudanese leader.
African Union spokesman Molalet Tsedeke told reporters on Saturday that he had been informed that Bashir was expected to attend the meeting.
“He is coming,” Tsedeke said.
International Criminal Court President Judge Song Sang-hyun demanded the arrest of al-Bashir in a statement released late on Saturin which he called on “South Africa, which has always contributed to the strengthening of the Court, to spare no effort in ensuring the execution of the arrest warrants.”
African leaders remain divided on the International Criminal Court statute, with African Union chairman and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in January urging African leaders to pull out of the treaty.
Mugabe and South African President Jacob Zuma were among those scheduled to speak yesterday.
Also attending is Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, whose country is battling the onslaught of militant group Boko Haram.
The leaders of Africa’s other major economies, Egypt and Angola, are absent.
The summit in South Africa’s economic capital comes two months after a wave of xenophobic violence swept parts of Johannesburg and Durban as African immigrants were hunted down and attacked by gangs.
At least seven people died in the unrest, which badly strained relations between South Africa and many countries in the region that were outraged at the targeting of their citizens.
In what African Union analyst Liesl Louw-Vaudran said is an unusual move, the subject of xenophobia was scheduled to be tackled in a closed session before the opening ceremony yesterday morning.
The session is also set to discuss migration — and will likely focus on the flood of African and Middle Eastern migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean.
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