ANC President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Addis Ababa - South Africa’s surprise election to the AU’s Peace and Security Council on Tuesday has been welcomed as a boost for South Africa and peace and security on the continent.

After an absence of three years, South Africa was elected on the eve of a two-day AU heads of state and government summit that starts in Ethiopia on Thursday.

President Jacob Zuma will on Wednesday attend meetings of the heads of state that manage Nepad - Africa’s premier development programme - and the African Peer Review Mechanism through which the 33 participating African governments scrutinise each other’s governance.

He is likely to be grilled on xenophobia - an issue highlighted in the last peer review report on South Africa. Zuma will present the third progress report on the government’s implementation of the recommendations made by the panel.

Officials said Botswana and Malawi were to have been candidates for southern Africa, but pulled out at the last minute, saying they were not ready.

Namibia was chosen to represent southern Africa along with South Africa instead.

Officials said South Africa’s election was recognition of its role in continental peacekeeping, particularly in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The conflicts in South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the DRC are expected to top the AU’s agenda on Thursday.

The violence in the CAR continues despite the presence of over 5 000 troops of the AU peacekeeping force Misca and more than 1 600 French troops.

Although the UN Peace and Security Council on Tuesday gave a mandate to a contingent of over 500 EU troops to use force in that country, Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the UN, said the UN Secretariat believed 10 000 soldiers were needed.

The African leaders are expected to deliberate on how to reinforce Misca.

They are also certain to discuss the warfare that erupted between South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his former vice-president Riek Machar on December 15 and rapidly degenerated into fighting between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer people.

About 10 000 people are estimated to have died and half a million been forced to flee.

A fragile peace deal was reached between Kiir and Machar’s factions last week, but has not been properly implemented.

At a summit of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region in Angola earlier this month, Zuma agreed to help the Great Lakes leaders solve the CAR problem, though it was not clear what form that help would take.

An informal summit of Great Lakes leaders is scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the AU summit here on Friday to discuss progress in the the framework agreement signed last February to try to end the conflict in the eastern DRC. - The Star