ADDIS ABABA - African nations are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African States this week, but Tunisia, one of its founding members, is in many ways missing from the festivities.
The Organization was the precursor to the African Union, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
75 heads of state were expected to converge on Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this week to attend the golden jubilee of the organization founded to promote the integration of the African continent and advance its decolonization. The theme of the summit is “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance,” and many events took place this week to debate and review the past and the future of the Union. These include an African Youth Forum, a Pan-African Business Conference, and several cultural events that revived the Ethiopian capital.
The Tunisian presence, however, has been much lower than that of most African countries, with key officials absent.
For two months, Tunisia has been without a permanent representative to the African Union.
“The ambassador post in Addis Ababa has been vacant for two months and we are still expecting the nomination of a new ambassador who will also be our permanent representative at the AU,” Rachid Saidani, the chargee d’affaire of the Tunisian Embassy in Ethiopia told Tunisia Live.
Other Tunisian officials will be missing as well. Minister of Foreign Affairs Othman Jarandi did not attend the Executive Council meeting, and was replaced by Saidani. President Moncef Marzouki will miss the summit of heads of state on May 26 and 27, according to Hedi Ben Abbes, the diplomatic adviser to the Tunisian presidency. The deputy minister of foreign affairs and Ben Abbes are expected to attend the summit is his place.
Tunisia is a founding member of the Organization of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union. In 1963, Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, attended the first summit and addressed the Organization’s heads of state.
“Tunisia, which hopes to have won your respect by its realism, its sense of moderation, and its constant devotion to the cause of liberty and progress in Africa, is still prepared to do anything that may help us to take the first step on the road to African unity,” Bourguiba said in 1963.
50 years later, some question Tunisia’s commitment to the Union. It has not ratified many African treaties, has not kept up its financial contributions to the organization, and is not well-represented at major African Union events.
A portrait of president Bourguiba is also absent from the gallery of the founding fathers of Africa, as the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs failed to send one.