The African Union’s (AU’s) Executive Council of foreign ministers meets on Thursday in preparation for the main event, the assembly of heads of state and government which starts on Sunday.
More worthy talks aimed at outlining a blueprint for a prosperous and peaceful Africa in the next 50 years are likely to be overshadowed by talks on the sidelines of the summit about the rapid re-emergence of conflict in the continent.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Organisation of African Unity — now the African Union — the celebrations for which commence on Sunday.
The theme for the summit — Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance — represents a "golden opportunity" for the continent to reflect on half a century of independence and chart a course for the future, says ambassador Jean Mfasoni, secretary-general of the AU Commission.
African leaders have set themselves an ambitious task: "We are trying to prepare ‘Vision 2063’, the AU strategic framework for the next 50 years," he says.
"This whole notion of the theme of the summit being on an African renaissance has been exceedingly important because of the broad way that the AU is defining renaissance," Michael Battle, the US ambassador to the AU, told Business Day.
"It’s looking at renaissance in terms of a change of approach on a lot of key issues. It’s looking at a renewal and resurgence of African solutions to African problems … by working hand in hand with a select group of partners who can assist in the process."
Climate change, the post-2015 development landscape, reform of the United Nations, boosting intra-African trade and the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area are some of the other subjects highlighted for discussion on the agenda of the assembly. Two new commissioners — for economic affairs and human resources, science and technology — will be elected, along with five members of the Peace and Security Council.
It is hoped that approval will finally be given for draft protocols of both the African Court of Justice and Human Rights and the Pan-African Parliament. And the leaders will also consider a proposal tabled by SA that July 18 be designated Nelson Mandela Day.
However, these issues are likely to be crowded out by the urgent discussions, conducted on the margins of summit, on the resurgence of conflict.
While the Executive Council is in session, parallel meetings on the simmering tensions between Sudan and South Sudan will be held: presidents Omer al-Bashir and Salva Kiir will sit down together on January 24 followed by a meeting of the Peace and Security Council at the level of heads of state. A ministerial meeting of the core group on Somalia and a meeting on Guinea-Bissau will also pull foreign ministers’ focus away from their preparations for the summit. Mali — in particular the French intervention — the Central African Republic, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the recent Algerian hostage crises will all be discussed.
The summit will be Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s first since she assumed the chairmanship of the AU Commission in October last year. If her speech on Monday to the opening session of the AU Permanent Representatives Committee serves as a bellwether, we can expect her to try to steer attention away from peace and security and towards social and economic development.
In a riff on what has become her usual refrain she said, "It is my fervent hope that we maintain a proper and healthy balance between achieving peace and advancing development."
That will be a tough proposition at the forthcoming summit.
• Jobson is a Business Day correspondent in Addis Ababa.