Ethiopia-Somalia tensions boil over at AU summitSat, 17 Feb 2024 17:53:26 GMT

Tensions between Horn of Africa rivals Ethiopia and Somalia boiled over on Saturday on the opening day of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.The two neighbours — already at odds over a controversial maritime pact — locked horns over Somalia’s claims that Ethiopian security tried to block its President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud from accessing the summit venue.The feud is one of a “litany of difficulties” referred to by AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat in his opening address to the gathering in the Ethiopian capital.Faki painted a “bleak picture” and said leaders of the pan-African body had to step up and tackle the myriad conflicts, coups and political crises blighting the continent of 1.4 billion people.The 55-nation AU, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa, has long been criticised for being ineffectual and taking little decisive action in the face of numerous conflicts and power grabs.In a sign of the uneasy relations between two member states, Mogadishu accused Addis Ababa of “outrageous conduct” and a “provocative” act over the reported security incident and demanded a full AU investigation.Mohamud told reporters he had been blocked by Ethiopian security agents as he tried to enter a summit venue, a second time while accompanying Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh.”A soldier with a gun stood in front of us and denied us access to this facility,” he said after later attending the summit.Ethiopia insisted Mohamud was warmly welcomed and that the Somali delegation was blocked when its security detail tried to enter a venue with weapons.- ‘Worrying trends’ -Mogadishu has accused Addis Ababa of violating its sovereignty over a January maritime deal with Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991 in a move not recognised by the international community.Under the memorandum of understanding, Somaliland agreed to lease 20 kilometres (12 miles) of its coast for 50 years to landlocked Ethiopia, which wants to set up a naval base and a commercial port on the coast.Faki had earlier spoken of “worrying trends” in the Horn of Africa without directly referring to the maritime pact, but said respect for the sovereignty of all countries in the region was crucial.The commission chief also blasted a failure of African leaders to counter multiple “unconstitutional changes of government”.Gabon and Niger are absent from the summit following their suspension over coups last year — joining Mali, Guinea, Sudan and Burkina Faso, which are also barred for similar reasons.Faki also voiced worries about the crisis in Senegal, set off by President Macky Sall’s last-minute move to push back this month’s elections in a country usually considered a beacon of democracy in West Africa.But he said he hoped for a “spirit of consensus” to organise “inclusive, free and transparent elections as quickly as possible” after the Constitutional Council overruled Sall’s move.Elsewhere, Sudan was “bruised, torn, sinking into chaos,” Faki said, while Libya was divided and exposed to external interference, the Sahel was facing a dangerous vacuum, and “terrorism” was diverting much-needed funds for social programmes to military spending.The Great Lakes region of central Africa was, he said, witnessing a worsening of “eternal crises” fuelled by the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.”Africa cannot remain arms folded and not work to promote genuine peace in the region,” Faki added.A mini summit looking at ways to relaunch the peace process for the DRC was held on Friday on the sidelines of the main AU meetings but no breakthrough was reported.Angolan President Joao Lourenco, who initiated the gathering, met separately Saturday with DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and his Rwandan rival Paul Kagame, the Congolese presidency said on X, adding that Lourenco would continue mediation in Luanda.- ‘Challenges not diminished’ -Other issues faced by African nations include political instability, climate change, poverty, “deficits” in economic governance and marginalisation of women and young people in development and leadership, Faki said.”Our main challenges have not diminished in importance.”Beyond Africa, the deadly Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza was a hot topic on Saturday.Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, among the speakers, called for sanctions on Israel and urged African leaders to make their voice “loud and clear”.The bloc managed to avoid a crisis on another front by defusing tensions over the one-year rotating AU chairmanship, which was transferred Saturday from Comoros President Azali Assoumani to Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani. The succession had long been blocked by an Algeria-Morocco dispute, underscoring internal divisions even as the AU seeks to have a stronger voice on the global stage, including in the G20 grouping which it joined in September.