The 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union opened today at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The meeting which will run from the 9th to 10th February is being held under the 2020 theme of the year, “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development. “
In his opening address the newly elected Chairperson of the African Union, H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa of the Republic of South Africa, outlined the priorities that will need to be the focus of the Union to bolster the progress being made in driving Africa’s growth trajectory within the framework of Agenda 2063.
Among the priorities highlighted was deepening the unity of the continent; advancing inclusive economic growth and sustainable development; ensuring political and economic unity, good governance and peace.
Other priority areas will include supporting integration, industrialisation, economic development, trade and investment; development of an appropriate strategy for the fourth industrial revolution; economic and financial inclusion for women and mainstreaming the interests of women; conflict resolution as well as championing the position of Africa as a strong and influential player in the global arena
On the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which will become operational in July 2020, Mr. Ramaphosa noted that the AfCFTA will be a major driver for reigniting industrialization and paving the way for Africa’s integration into the global economy as a player of considerable weight and scale.
He however noted that with the potential of the AfCFTA to boost intra-African trade should not become a conduit for products with minimal African content under the guise of continental integration and reiterated the need to clearly define what standards will be applied to define what constitutes a product that is proudly made in Africa.
Mr Ramaphosa announced that South Africa will host the Extra Ordinary Summit on the AfCFTA to be held back to back with the Extra Ordinary Summit on Silencing the Guns in May 2020.
On the issue of empowerment of women and girls in Africa, the AU Chairperson emphasised the need to move beyond the clichés and general statements and work towards achieving practical solutions such as the implementation of awarding 25% of public procurement to women owned businesses in line with Agenda 2063.
He affirmed the commitment of the Union to work with Ghanian president, Nana Akufo Addo, and the African Union Champion on Gender and Development issues on in Africa
While speaking on the Theme of the Year, Mr. Ramaphosa noted that along with Africa taking charge of its peace and security agenda and finding African solutions to African problems, there was an urgent need to “.. deal with the action of countries outside our continent that are fighting proxy wars and fuelling ongoing conflicts on our continent.”
He also expressed solidarity with the people of Palestine in their quest for an independent and sovereign state.
On his part, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the AU Commission (AUC) Chairperson emphasised the need for solidarity among African countries if the continent is to achieve its goals for peaceful and secure Africa, noting that “the deficit of solidarity is one of the big weaknesses of the system of resistance and Africa’s overall capacities for continental resilience.
Mahamat noted that the persistence of terrorism threatens the collapse of some member states and must be eradicated, and that women and children remain the biggest victims of conflict.
The commission chariperson further said that the AU will continue exerting all efforts to achieve peace in the Horn of Africa; the Sahel and the Lake Chad basin; in Western Sahara, where efforts are ongoing to implement the Nouakchott decision; Libya, where Africa continues to stress that there can be no military solution and urges dialogue; Somalia where AMISOM continues to deploy, albeit in very difficult conditions; in the Central African Republic where efforts have intensified to ensure the rigorous application of peace and reconciliation agreements; and in Cameroun, where dialogue is continuing and attention is required.
Mr. Mahamat lauded the African Mediation efforts in Sudan that resulted in the peace agreement and commended the new authority there that has pledged to continue dialogue with the rebel groups.
In line with the ongoing efforts by the AU to ensure inclusion of women in Africa’s development agenda, Mr, Mahamat announced that 2020 to 2030 has been declared The Decade of Financial Inclusion for Women.
The UN Secretary General Mr Antonio Guterres also spoke and stressed the importance of including women and youth in Africa’s peace initiatives. He said that “Peace, social cohesion and sustainable development require women’s contribution and leadership. Women clearly have an essential role to play in conflict prevention and political transitions”, he said.
Guterres also said it was necessary to engage and empower Africa’s youth, whom he said have become advocates for peace through dialogue and addressing the root causes of conflict. In this respect he commended the 1 million by 2021 initiative of the African Union which aims to reach millions of African youth with opportunities.
Invited speakers who also addressed the Assembly included Mr Ahmed Abou Gheit, Secretary General of the Arab League and Mr Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine and Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (speech delivered by H.E. Mohammad Shtayyeh, Prime Minister of the State of Palestine).
Africa Tembelea understands that during their sessions today and tomorrow, the Heads of State and Government will consider, amongst others: the Report on the institutional reform of the AU which will be delivered by H.E. President Paul Kagame, in his role as the leader on the project as well as an update by the Chairperson of the AU Commission Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat on the status of implementation of the institutional reforms.
Other areas for consideration include the Report on AfCFTA by H.E. President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger and leader on the AfCFTA which has been signed by 54 of the 55 countries that constitute the AU and ratified by 28 countries.
The bureau of the Assembly of the African Union for 2020 was announced during the Assembly: Chair – South Africa; Vice Chair – Democratic Republic of Congo; Second Vice Chair – Mali; 3rd Vice Chair – Kenya; Rapporteur- Egypt. It was also announced the Democratic Republic of Congo will be the Chair of the Union in 2021.
During the opening session, the Assembly observed a minute of silence in honour of the recently deceased former President of the Republic of Kenya Mr Daniel Arap Moi who served as Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity in 1981.
Pictures: 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union