Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took over as chair of the African Union (AU) following a meeting at the continental bodys summit in Ethiopia on Sunday.
The ceremonial head of the AU rotates annually between the five regions of the continent.
While multiple crises on the continent will be on the agenda of heads of state from the 55 member nations, the Egyptian leader is expected to focus on the fight against armed groups on the continent and rebuilding efforts of countries recovering from conflict.
“Terrorism remains a cancer that affects African nations and steals the dreams of our people and we must identify and combat those who fund terrorism activities on the continent,” Sisi said in a speech to the AU assembly shortly after his appointment.
Under Egypt’s leadership, Sisi said that, “the bloc will prioritise mediation and “preventive diplomacy” as one of the key mechanisms for promoting peace and security on the continent.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Saturday that peaceful elections in DR Congo, Mali and Madagascar, as well as peace deals in South Sudan and Central African Republic and the truce between Ethiopia and Eritrea, were signs of a “wind of hope” on the continent.
The summit will also focus on institutional reforms, and the establishment of a continent-wide free trade zone.
“There is no doubt that you (Sisi) will take our union forward decisively to new and greater heights,” the Rwandan leader said as he handed over to Egypt’s president.
The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) was agreed by 44 nations in March 2018, but only 19 countries have ratified the agreement, with 22 needed for it to come into effect.
The single market is a flagship of the AU’s “Agenda 2063” programme, conceived as a strategic framework for socioeconomic transformation.
Cairo is backing the initiative, but analysts say it will be less likely to focus on the financial and administrative reforms pushed by Kagame since 2016.
Egypt has “never forgotten” its suspension from the 55-member state in 2013 after it’s army deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who in 2012 became the country’s first democratically elected president. The bloc later lifted Egypt’s suspension.
Amnesty International has also expressed fears that Egypt’s chairmanship could undermine human rights mechanisms in the AU.
Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa Campaigns Director was quoted to have said that, during Sisi’s time in power, “he has demonstrated a shocking contempt for human rights. Under his leadership the country has undergone a catastrophic decline in rights and freedoms.”
“There are real fears about the potential impact his chairmanship could have on the independence of regional human rights mechanisms and their future engagement with civil society,” Bounaim added.
It is the first time since the AU was founded in 2002 that Egypt assumes the top seat of the body.