Daily Maverick: It’s not just about the AU itself. Almost every African country has an embassy in Addis, because they’ve all got ambassadors to the AU (Why else would the likes of beleaguered Mali, for example, maintain a mission here?). This applies to non-African countries too: Addis Ababa’s status as a diplomatic hub means it attracts more foreign representation than other African capitals of a similar size, including another vast international organisation: the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. These missions all rent offices and houses, employ local staff, and shop in local stores, as do the research organisations and NGOs who trail in their wake.
While there’s no doubt that the AU is good for the local economy, it’s also true that hosting the AU inflates Ethiopia’s influence over AU decisions. Unlike many African countries, Ethiopia is able to attend every meeting, and, as host, it is given the floor whenever it wishes. It is able to send high-level representation with ease, which can play a major factor in smaller meetings outside of summits. So far, so normal for any major diplomatic city, be it Brussels, Geneva or New York. But Ethiopia takes things even further, using its role as gatekeeper to the AU to protect itself from international scrutiny and criticism, and to monitor those who deal with the continental body.