Is the African Union up to the continent’s challenges?

Thirty years to the day after Nelson Mandela stepped out of prison, his freedom a symbol of African self-determination and a triumph for the solidarity between Africans, the African Union is kicking off its annual summit to address the significant challenges of the continent. Unfortunately, many of the bloc's 55 leaders that will ultimately determine the AU's strategy are chief among those same challenges and show little willingness to tackle the systematic flaws in the system that they rely on.

The AU's 33rd yearly summit is taking place in Addis Ababa under the theme of "Silencing the Guns: Creating conducive conditions for Africa's development." More than 28.000 Africans were killed in acts of political violence last year, according to ACLED. This is down from a peak of more than 40.000 in 2014, which was, in turn, up from about 8.000 in 2005.

So, on the one hand, this year's summit theme seems timely and well-considered. But political violence is no force of nature. People create it. And many of those responsible, either through their actions or due to negligence, are now mingling below the golden crescent of the African Union's logo.

Presidents Sisi of Egypt, Museveni of Uganda, Nkurunziza of Burundi, and Condé of Guinea are among those who have pushed through constitutional amendments to secure a longer term in office, literally over the dead bodies of those opposed to these desires. Sisi arguably also takes the questionable distinction of being most responsible for large-scale violence in a neighboring country, as one of Libyan militia leader General Haftar's most influential backers.

Their colleagues from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and Nigeria are traveling to Ethiopia with tales of unspeakable suffering from their home countries. Throughout the Sahel, insurgencies, militias, self-defense groups, as well as foreign and domestic soldiers have used the better part of the last decade to add "war-torn" to the list of undesirable adjectives often associated with their countries. One can safely assume that all of those politicians would be delighted if the killing would simply stop. But none are willing or capable to sacrifice the economic interests of their elite class and the corruption of their political systems that are the drivers of this circle of violence.

The African Union certainly has produced some laudable initiatives. African soldiers are increasingly taking responsibility as peacekeepers on their continent. The Union now has a stronger capacity than ever to warn detect and warn of escalating violence. But it has sorely lacked the will to demand compliance with fundamental human rights, not to speak of actual democratic reform, from its member states.

Just as every year, the 55 political leaders of the continent will use their speeches to evoke the great potential for peace and prosperity of Africa's 1.2 billion people. And just like every year, they will avoid looking each other in the eyes and acknowledge one of the main impediments to realizing this potential: their unwillingness to live by the convictions that they demand of others.