ADDIS ABABA – Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete won the rotating chairmanship of the African Union (AU) on Thursday, succeeding Ghana’s president John Kufuor.
The 53-nation organisation is holding a summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa under the shadow of a violent standoff in Kenya between government and opposition supporters over a disputed election.
An East African country was due to take the AU’s rotating presidency this year.
Political observers believe Kikwete faces an uphill task to help solve the political crises on the continent in countries like Zimbabwe and Kenya.
The AU also elected Gabon’s foreign minister, Jean Ping, as the new chairman of its main executive arm, replacing charismatic former Malian president Alpha Omar Konare, who had been at the helm since 2003.
"I can’t say too much at the moment, but of course I am very happy," Ping told a crowd of diplomats, journalists and well-wishers after winning the vote at an AU summit in Ethiopia.
Ping, who is also Gabon’s deputy prime minister, defeated candidates from Burundi, Sierra Leone and Zambia in the contest to become chairman of the 53-nation body’s Commission.
Konare, a former Malian president, had led the AU Commission since 2003.
The AU Commission is the African Union’s executive and administrative branch.
Meanwhile, the African leaders’ summit shifted its attention Friday from the crisis in Kenya to Chad, with delegates voicing fears of a major conflict that could scupper peace efforts in Sudan.
One high-ranking AU official told AFP that the fighting could have a serious impact on the deployment of a European peacekeeping force in Chad and of an African Union-UN contingent in neighbouring Sudan’s Darfur region.
"This attack means that everything is up in the air," said the official, who declined to be identified.
The European Union announced yesterday it was delaying the deployment of troops and equipment.
"Three flights, one with a dozen Austrian soldiers and two with around 50 Irish soldiers and equipment, were cancelled due to instability linked to fighting between government troops and rebels near Ndjamena," said Lieutenant Colonel Philippe de Cussac, Spokesman for the EU mission.