By Chrispanus Omar
ADDIS ABABA, July 14 (Xinhua) -- African leaders braced for an unusually stormy Summit on Sunday amid fears the European debt crisis and the growing tensions in West and Central Africa could impact negatively on efforts to promote trade.
The 19th ordinary session of the African Union Heads of State and Government Assembly is expected to draw more controversy than the previous one after its abrupt relocation from Lilongwe, the Malawian capital, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, due to efforts by the hosts to block President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan.
The drawn battle for the top post of the AU Commission had generated the biggest controversy in the days running up to the opening of the ministerial level of the Summit, after an unexpectedly public confrontation between incumbent AU Commission Chief Jean Ping and his challenger.
Earlier, Ping was forced to issue a statement declaring he was firmly in the race for a second term after reports he visited South Africa and reached agreement to step down in favour of rival Dlamini Zuma.
In a statement delivered during a closed session of the AU Executive Council, foreign minister of Botswana Phandu Skelemani, accused Ping of direct attack against a member state.
Skelemani also said the AU Chief had acted contrary to the rules of the AU Commission, which require its officials to refrain from action that might reflect negatively on their positions by issuing a statement directed at a South African newspaper for publishing what Ping considered as false information.
Ping said in the statement the South African media portrayed him as suffering from poor health and therefore incapable of leading.
Dr Mehari Maru, a Harvard-educated Ethiopian scholar and conflict expert, said so far, the campaigns for the positions in the 10-member Commission "exhibited neither diplomatic nor electoral maturity."
"The AU should have been an exemplary example in its elections and leadership. As the norm-setting body on democratic principles, free and fair elections as well as the prime monitor of elections, it should hold the highest possible moral ground for its elections, " Mehari said in an emailed statement to Xinhua.
"The level of maturity of contenders and their countries and supporters should be exemplary to all contending political leaders and parties," he added.
The AU Summit is due to discuss the ways and means of improving trade within Africa, the Summit theme adopted this year and which was part of earlier discussions in January.
"Africa needs to increase trade..Africa is under construction and we are here to sort out the conflicts. We have realized that to improve economic performance, we have to deal with conflicts," Kenya's Assistant foreign Minister Richard Onyonka told Xinhua.
The minister said removing trade barriers could ease trade within Africa as shown by the rapid growth of trade between Kenya and Tanzania in recent times.
Tanzania's trade with Kenya has increased from 200 million U.S. dollars to more than 1 billion dollars since the two countries kicked off trade under the East African Community (EAC) common market.
"We believe Africans have realized we cannot go to war and continue to waste resources," Onyonka said.
The conflict in Mali, tension between South Sudan and its northern neighbor, Sudan and the improvement of trade are top on the Summit agenda.
"We cannot develop without peace," Nourredine Mezni, Ping's spokesperson, told Xinhua. He said the outstanding issues over the election of the next chairperson would be decided later on Saturday, during a meeting of the AU Ad Hoc Committee of eight heads of state plus Gabon and South Africa.
Meanwhile, despite political issues dominating the Summit, experts regretted Africa's failure to capture the moment by becoming the alternative source of a worldwide economic growth.
African economies defied the North African crisis in 2011 to post 3.4 percent growth despite losing the battle to become the world's growth driver.
Abdoulie Janneh, U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Executive Secretary, said Africa failed to re-emerge as the next growth frontier due to the Eurozone debt crisis effects.
"The initial expectations for this year were for stronger growth but this outlook has been damped by the developments in the other parts of the world," Janneh said at a gathering of Africa's Foreign Minister attending the Executive Council, which ended here Friday.
The African leaders regretted that while the continent enjoyed fewer conflicts, tension was rising elsewhere in West and Central Africa.
Ping said the Malian crisis, risked the survival of the entire state machinery and was likely to echo across West Africa.
"We have to implement the decisions we have reached," Ping said during a Presidential-level meeting to discuss the crisis in Mali and the Sudanese tension.
Africa has 11 active peacekeeping missions with some 50,000 peacekeepers deployed in hotspots such as Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in Northern Africa.
Ping said the amount of resources spent on conflict and peacekeeping operations were not part of the organisation's 218 million U.S. dollar budget expected for 2013.
"Africa faces fewer inter-state wars and more intra-state conflicts. With more localized manifestations and coverage, current African conflicts are not civil wars that engulf the entire country," Mehari added.