By Atayi Babs
The 24th summit of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union, which started in Addis Ababa today has heard from distinguished speakers of the progress and some of the challenges that Africa faces, as well as proposals for the way forward. The opening ceremony of the summit also saw the election of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as the Union’s Chairperson for the year 2015.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 24th summit of the African Union today, Dr Dlamini Zuma said Africa has no choice but to move forward and upwards. The continent, she said, has been climbing, “a step at a time, up the steep cliff towards peace, prosperity and the restoration of the dignity of its people”.
She projected that the present generation is the one that will eradicate poverty, disease and hunger. “We are the generation that shall manage diversity and silence the guns”, she added.
Agenda 2063 framework
The Chairperson recalled that, at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Organisation of African Unity in 2013, the continent’s resolve to be in charge of its destiny, informed its decision to develop Agenda 2063 “through a people-driven process for the realization of our vision for an integrated, people-centred, prosperous Africa at peace with itself”. The Agenda 2063 framework document will be presented for adoption by the Heads of State and Government today.
Agenda 2063 outlines the aspirations and the concrete programmes to steer the continent for the next fifty years: to diversify African economies and industrialise; to have a skills and entrepreneurial revolution, unleashing the creativity and energy of young people, and to effect an agricultural and agro-processing transformation, so that Africa can feed itself and contribute to feeding the world.
“Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development”
The summit of African Union Heads of State and Government is being held under the theme “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development”. Various speakers at the summit’s opening ceremony expressed their commitment to mainstreaming women in all socio- economic activities, with Malawian President Mr Peter Mutharika dedicating his entire statement to the topic. He outlined major successes achieved by his country, but also mentioned the challenges they face. However he gave his commitment that his government will continue to strive to achieve gender equality. United Nations Secretary General Mr Ban Ki Moon also expressed strong support for the AU’s annual theme: “Women must be at the center and front of all our lives”, he said.
Terrorism, insecurity and climate change
Issues of peace and security dominated many of the presentations by the African and visiting Heads of State and Government. President of the State of Palestine and Chairperson of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Executive Committee Mr Mahmoud Abbas spoke of his government’s desire and the efforts being exerted to achieve a Palestinian state living side by side with the state of Israel.
Many of the leaders condemned terrorism in very strong terms, with then outgoing Chairperson of the African Union Mr Mohammed Ould Abdelaziz saying, “Terrorism remains a global scourge and fighting it requires cooperation at the international level.”AUC Chairperson Dr Dlamini Zuma also cautioned that Africa should be aware of the new global threats such as terrorism, insecurity and climate change. “Terrorism, in particular the brutality of Boko Haram against our people, the senseless killings, the destruction of property, the enslavement and sale of our people, our girls kidnapped and married, and the terrorization of villages, are a threat to our collective safety, security and development”.
The Ebola virus disease that affected mostly three countries in West Africa attracted a lot of attention at the meeting of the Heads of State and Government. AU Commission Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma praised the work of the 835 African health workers who were deployed to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone under the banner of the African Union Support to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA).
She also extended her gratitude to the ASEOWA head of mission Dr Julius Oketta and the African private sector that is raising funds to keep the health workers on the ground until the affected countries are declared Ebola free. There are signs that, due to the work of the ASEOWA health workers among others, the Ebola crisis is now abating, with the incidents of infection and death from the disease vastly decreasing.
Transitions on the continent
Tunisian President Mr Beji Caid Essebsi informed the summit that “the democratic process chosen by Tunisians is irreversible”. Tunisians, he said, had proven that the people of Africa can build the continent with their own hands. He also said Tunisia is proud of being African.
New Zambian President Mr Edgar Lungu thanked the African Union for supporting his country through the death of Mr Michael Satain October 2014 and the subsequent elections that ushered him into power. He thanked the Southern African Development Community, the AU and other organisations that sent in election monitors. Zambia, he said, has demonstrated that it is possible to have peaceful elections, and pledged that Zambia will actively participate in the affairs of the Union.
The late Zambian President meanwhile was honoured by his colleagues and other delegates by a one minute silence in his memory.
Outgoing Namibian President Mr Hifikinye Pohambawas given a chance to bid farewell to his colleagues at today’s opening ceremony of the Assembly.
New AU Chairperson Mr Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe meanwhile accepted his position by saying “By electing me to preside over this august body, with full knowledge of the onerous responsibility that lies ahead, I humbly accept your collective decision”. He urged Africa to take charge of its destiny and pledged to work for Africa’s development particularly through infrastructure development. He then proceeded to launch the theme of the year, i.e. “Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Agenda 2063”.
The meeting of African Heads of State and Government will conclude on Saturday 31st January with the adoption of decisions and declarations to guide the work of the African Union this year.