Centralization of the African Union Leadership Summits


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Vladimir Vepryev is a consultant in business and international relations with a diverse background. A native of Ukraine, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and a firm believer in life-long enhancement of skills, he finished a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, another Bachelor of Science in Structural Engineering, and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering, all from the Ukrainian State University of Water Management. Later, Vlad earned a Master of Business Administration from Georgetown University, a Master of Science in International Development Studies from the University of Amsterdam, and a Master of Liberal Arts, concentration in Government, from Harvard University. He also completed graduate studies in international management at the University of Oxford, Trinity College.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a journalist and an analyst from South Africa with a solid experience in African affairs, summarizes the ways to improve the annual meetings of the heads of the states of the African Union (AU) in her recent article at AllAfrica.com (2014). The AU currently includes fifty four countries of the African continent with the sole exception of non-membership in the case of Morocco. Currently, the AU leadership summits transpire in different locations all over the continent. The 2014 meeting takes place in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in June 2014. However, many African countries decide against hosting them (Louw-Vaudran, 2014). Now Louw-Vaudran creates a strong narrative in order to support the geographic centralization/concentration of the future AU leadership summits to the city of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and the location of the AU headquarters, the African Union Commission (AUC).

Ethiopia is an East African country with the total area of 1,104,300 square kilometers or 426,373 square miles (CIA, 2014). The population of Ethiopia equals 96,633,458 (CIA, 2014). After the emergence of independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, Ethiopia became landlocked from the Red Sea. Ethiopia shares land borders with Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Sudan. The city of Addis Ababa with the population of 2,979 million (CIA, 2014) serves as the national capital and the major economic center.

Most importantly, the economy of Ethiopia is growing. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi led the country since the victory in the civil war over the pro-Soviet Mengistu dictatorship in 1991 and until his untimely death in 2012. Then Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn became the Meles’ successor and the Prime Minister in accordance to the national constitution and with a very strong emphasis on the continuity of policies of his predecessor in the public announcements (Verhoeven, 2012). The economic accomplishments in the Meles era and the current continuation became especially evident due to their contrast to the Mengistu period that was characterized by poverty, instability, and the Lenin-Stalin style Red Terror.

In particular, the city of Addis Ababa experienced the number of achievements. As a sign of a breakthrough from the problematic past, 98.64% of the capital’s households achieved an access to a safe drinking water by 2007 (City Government of Addis Ababa, 2012). While the battle against the poverty always requires time, the significant signs of growth and improvement are visible everywhere in Addis Ababa. For instance, businesses expand, many individuals find more and more opportunities in professional employment and entrepreneurship, the new construction continues to develop, and the infrastructure attains the new levels (Cox, 2012; Beauge, 2013; Amdework, 2013; Maula, 2014). The public administration contributes as well. For example, fifty two new public projects for the city were inaugurated very recently, on June 13, 2014 (City Government of Addis Ababa, 2014).

In her aforementioned article, Louw-Vaudran makes a reference to the economic accomplishments in Ethiopia and explains that such a centralization of the AU leadership summits will result in a very significant reduction of costs of these annual events currently handled by each host country (2014). Louw-Vaudran certainly provides the correct analysis and the conclusions on this topic. Acute economic concerns may disqualify a country from being a site of a major international meeting and/or a permanent international office. This concern does not apply to Ethiopia. The challenges of poverty still need to be totally resolved, but the country makes steady and visible progress.

Several more factors may be mentioned in order to support the choice of the AU leadership summits and other AU meetings in Addis Ababa as a new AU standard. Most importantly, in the case of the organizing of the summits in Addis Ababa, the diplomatic personnel from Africa and other continents assigned to the embassies in Ethiopia will become increasingly familiar with any and all aspects of meetings of the national leaders of the continent and their top delegations. The national ambassadors of African countries to Ethiopia may officially receive greater responsibility and authority in cooperation with the AU. Many indicators suggest strengthening of African institutions and economic development in the continent. Based on this trend, it is reasonable to forecast a growing global demand for diplomats, scholars, management consultants, lobbyists, international development specialists, and political observers specialized on such an area as cooperation with the African government structures. Therefore, many qualified and talented individuals may select such an expertise as their career choice. Similarly to Brussels in Europe, Addis Ababa will solidify its role of a continental hub of public policy. These experts can be primarily based in Addis Ababa.

Moreover, the increased permanent and active presence of the qualified diplomats and experts in Addis Ababa, may decrease the danger of overloading the short periods of the summits. Certain issues may be resolved during the year and then only approved by the summits. In a case of an emergency it may become more feasible and less costly to conduct an extraordinary AU leadership summit when Addis Ababa has or soon will have all necessary facilities and services. Some national governments in Africa may even authorize their ambassadors to Ethiopia to represent their countries and to act on behalf of their respective heads of states during the future AU leadership summits.

The corporate entities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), interested in the expansion in Africa, also may select Addis Ababa as their base.  The leaders from the corporate world and the NGOs’ management can further develop Addis Ababa as a hub of African business–government relations and NGO–government relations. Again, it would be beneficial for the corporate and non-governmental stakeholders to utilize and adopt the experience of Brussels and the mechanisms of cooperation with the Brussels-based EU authorities. Eventually, some companies and NGOs from other parts of the world may assign greater consideration for Addis Ababa as for a hub and/or a starting point of their African operations.

The creation of these professional positions will lead to growth of various supportive jobs as well, for example in the service sector. Therefore, the new vacancies in Addis Ababa will be not limited to the high-end and middle class.

The question of costs of the AU leadership summits still remains valid. Rights and responsibilities come together. It will be appropriate for Ethiopia to propose to each national delegation to cover its own associated costs. These trips serve as a contribution to the continental cooperation. If correctly utilized, the trips to the AU leadership summits can bring much more potential benefits in comparison to visits to the host country.

In addition to the economic successes, Ethiopia takes a lead in the issues of international security, in particular in relation to the ongoing war in Somalia. Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam pledged more support to the Somali government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during Mohamud’s visit to Ethiopia (Anadolu Agency, 2014; Nor, 2014). The opposite part of the conflict in Somalia, the Al-Shabaab group organized terrorist attacks outside of Somalia, but the national government of Ethiopia seems to completely understand the full seriousness of the threat from Al-Shabaab and to provide significant measures for the increased stability in East Africa. Similarly to Ethiopia, Kenya also acts on the side of the Mohamud national administration. Ethiopia and Kenya participated in both diplomatic and military efforts on this problem.

Of course, some criticism may be directed against the centralization of the AU leadership summits in Addis Ababa. Some critics may claim that such a change will give the host country more advantages and/or too much negotiating power. The AU and the EU remain the subject for the constant comparison. Brussels, the capital of Belgium was selected as the location of the European organizations without being a capital of one of the largest or dominant countries of its respective continent. While the attitude to the EU management in Brussels and the opinions about the optimal limits of their authority significantly vary, these considerations do not even pertain to the attitude toward the national government of Belgium from the EU partners. In other words, while the international standing of Ethiopia may increase, this scenario and the current AU regulations do not include any mechanism in order for Ethiopia or another country to become overly dominant in relation to the continental partners.

The lack of security and the economic situation in Africa create a sense of urgency. Problems of security and poverty in some parts of the continent need to prioritize the cutting of the costs and the increase of managerial effectiveness of the AU mechanism. The concentration of the leadership meetings in Addis Ababa will work as a part of a solution.

In some future hypothetical cases, the AU summits may need to be organized in the locations other than Addis Ababa due to the need of proximity to the areas discussed over the course of these summits. However, such a probability should not mean the avoidance of Addis Ababa in a status of the primary AU leadership summits location. Instead, the summits in other locations may serve as a rare variant for isolated exceptional cases. The need of a closer location due to events in some area often does not have any practical purpose. For example, long before the active popularity of the Internet, in 1968–1973, the peace negotiations on Vietnam were held in Paris, France, far away from the Vietnamese borders. In a case of a natural or technological disaster, the proximity of a solutions forum in a close geographic location may become complicated and/or dangerous. Finally, a solution of a local or regional problem does not necessarily require the presence of top-level delegations from the entire continent.

Therefore, the selection of the standard place for the AU leadership summits seems to be a workable variant. Given the annual nature of such summits, it is feasible and economically beneficial to implement such a change very soon, for the year of 2015.


Amdework, Ezana (2013). Addis Ababa stimulus paper. Pascal International Exchanges. (http://pie.pascalobservatory.org/pascalnow/blogentry/addis-ababa-stimulus-paper). Published in 2013. Accessed on June 23, 2014.

Anadolu Agency (2014). Ethiopia to enhance support for Somalia. Anadolu Agency. (http://www.aa.com.tr/en/politics/322357–ethiopia-to-enhance). Published on May 4, 2014. Accessed on June 23, 2014.

Beauge, Florence (2013). Addis Ababa is the showcase for Ethiopia’s great leap forward.  Guardian Weekly. (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/18/ethiopia-addis-ababa-middle-class). Published on June 18, 2013. Accessed on June 23, 2014.

Central Intelligence Agency (2014). World Fact Book. Ethiopia. (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/et.html). Accessed on June 23, 2014.

City Government of Addis Ababa (2012). City Profile. Addis Ababa. (http://www.addisababacity.gov.et/index.php/en/city-hall/city-profile). Published in 2012. Assessed on June 23, 2014.

City Government of Addis Ababa (2014). Sub-city inaugurates 52 projects with over 200 million birr cost. (http://www.addisababacity.gov.et/index.php/en/home/1237–sub-city-inaugurates-52-projects-with-over-200-million-birr-cost). Published on June 13, 2014. Accessed on June 23, 2014.

Cox, Wendell (2012). The evolving urban form: Addis Ababa. New Geography. (http://www.newgeography.com/content/003203-the-evolving-urban-form-addis-abeba). Published on November 6, 2013. Accessed on June 23, 2014.

Louw-Vaudran, Liesl (2014). Africa: Should all African Union summits take place in Addis Ababa? AllAfrica.com. (http://allafrica.com/stories/201406201081.html?aa_source=acrdn-f0). Published on June 20, 2014. Accessed on September 23, 2014.

Maula, Johanna (2014). Changing urban economy in Addis Ababa. African Sarvi. (http://afrikansarvi.fi/72-artikkeli/204-changing-urban-economy-in-addis-ababa). Published in 2014. Accessed on June 23, 2014.

Nor, Omar (2014). Somalia President returns home, after two-day visit to Ethiopia. Garsoornews. (http://garsoornews.com/news/somalia-president-returns-homeafter-two-day-visit-in-ethiopia/). Published in 2014. Accessed on June 23, 2014.

Verhoeven, Harry (2012). Zenawi: The titan who changed Africa. Al Jazeera. (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/08/2012821115259626668.html). Published on August 21, 2012. Accessed on June 23, 2014.


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