Life in an Ethiopian palace full of African leaders

By IndepthAfrica
In Djibouti
Feb 7th, 2013

africanunion2013reutersAt the Sheraton Addis Ababa, in the Ethiopian capital, Heads of State, diplomats and government officials exchanged pleasantries, talking about issues, as those at diplomatic loggerheads busily avoided each other.


Indulging in the padded lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa, the President of Benin and outgoing president of the African Union, Boni Yayi – in spite of the seemingly omnipresent Malian crisis and the 2013 African Cup of Nations – could not be missed.

Guests at the superb Ethiopian-style hotel, built by Ethiopian-Saudi Sheikh Al Amoudi, quietly jeered at Yayi’s fondness for bright colours at his every passage.

Boni Yayi had chosen to spend his last days as President of the African Union dressed in a dandy, electric blue suit for the opening of the Summit of Heads of State and a golden yellow suit to close it.

Mesmerised by the sound of his own voice, the outgoing president was relentless as he paid endless homage to his peers.

Early on, his gallantry had been put to the test when he offered the President of the Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma a bouquet of flowers for her birthday.

As the day wore on, he was spotted seeking a tête-à-tête with French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, followed by a hearty stroll with Congolese president, Denis Sassou Nguesso.

The last gathering looked nothing like the last two pan-African summits, during which the polarised election campaign for the commission’s chairpersonship position had poisoned the atmosphere at the African Union gathering.

That evening, a fleet of limousines made their way to the Sheraton Hotel, bringing with them VIPs. Valets in impeccable tail-coats waited on the front steps of the hotel to welcome them.

Meanwhile, courtiers tailed the politicians, following their every gaze in the hope of clinching that friendly eye-contact, a warm handshake, a few words, but above all, a private audience.

As the big ones made a dash for their sumptuous suites, the diplomats were happy to stay behind in the lobby to engage with journalists, reciting their latest statements while testing their carefully honed antics.

As for Ban Ki-moon, he chose to isolate himself in one of the pavilions, surrounded by a legion of bodyguards. “Come thirty minutes early, because security checks are very strict before meeting the secretary general,” explains Ban’s spokeswoman.

Not all leaders and diplomats who paced up and down the long corridors of the palace hotel were in the mood to interact, however.

Some were noticeably walking gingerly down the corridor in a desperate attempt to avoid their rivals, like Saadeddine El Othmani, Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mohamed Abdelaziz, President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), whose travel expenses were paid for by his Algerian friends.

[B]The Hague beckons[/B]

There was no love lost between brother-enemies Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan, and his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir, as his bodyguards diligently kept watch without as much as batting an eye.

Al-Bashir obviously takes the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant very seriously, especially with chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda lodging in the same hotel, to lobby heads of state.

And then there was Joyce Banda, President of Malawi who had promised to have al-Bashir arrested and served to the ICC if he ever dared step foot in her country, forcing the change in venue of the AU summit last year.

Events in Mali and Egypt (the military storming of In Amenas and protests against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi) could not be avoided, as Arab leaders consoled each other.

Abdelmalek Sellal, outgoing Algerian Prime Minister wished Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs the best of luck.

But there was also much talk about the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

Between lunch and coffee breaks and after a long day’s work, Heads of State accompanied by their ministers, counsels and guests would gather around televisions sets to watch the football tournament.

West Africans were the envy of all and sundry.

With seven West African teams qualifying for the quarterfinals, alongside South Africa, their superiority had been set in stone.

There were those who marveled at the technical prowess of the Ivorian Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayor of Togo, Mali’s Seydou Keita and Burkina Faso’s Alain Traoré.

There were also those who more than frowned on the blunders of some players who had left their teams wanting.

In spite of all the issues facing the continent, discussions on the sidelines of the summit was dominated by football and French forces marching into Mali.

Source: Africa Report

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