The proceedings of the 34th summit of African Union (AU) leaders which held virtually between February 5 and 7, 2021 touched on major reforms. AWWAL GATA reports on the proceedings.
For the first time since it started 34 years ago, the summit of African Union (AU) leaders was held virtually this year, apparently to contain the spread of COVID-19. The two-day summit was held between February 5 and 7 2021 under the theme, ‘Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want’.
Apart from its official theme, other issues brought to the fore at the pan-African summit were the state of peace and security on the continent, reformation of the union and its concerted response to COVID-19 amidst the impasse surrounding the vaccines. The quadrennial elections of the AU Commission was also due, hence, a significant part of the summit was dedicated to electing new leaders.
Moussa Faki Mahamat from the Republic of Chad was elected as the chairperson of the African Union Commission for another four year term. The former Chadian prime minister, who ran unopposed, received support from 51 out of 55 member states.
He is to be deputised by Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa from Rwanda. Nsanzabaganwa secured the majority of votes in a highly contested position which saw two other female candidates vying for the post. Nsanzabaganwa became the first female to occupy the position of the deputy chairperson.
As has been the norm, the executive council of the AU Commission also elected commissioners for the various portfolios of the commission. Like the chairperson, commissioners are elected for four years, renewable once.
In a bid to institutionally reform AU and smoothen the implementation of its programmes, the portfolios of commissioners were reduced from eight to six. Those elected were Ambassador Bankole Adeoye (Nigeria) elected to head political affairs, peace and security docket; Ms Josefa Sacko (Angola), re-elected to head agriculture, rural development, blue economy and sustainable environment; Ambassador Albert Muchanga (Zambia) re-elected to head economic development, trade, industry and mining and Dr Amani Abou-Zeid (Egypt) re-elected to head infrastructure and energy docket.
Elections for the posts of commissioner for health, humanitarian affairs and social development and commissioner for education, science, technology and innovation were postponed to the next meeting of the executive council.
Also at the summit, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (CAR), Felix Tshisekedi, took over the chairmanship of African Union (AU) from his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa. Chairmanship of the union rotates among the continent’s leaders annually.
In his handing over speech, Ramaphosa highlighted some of the union’s achievements under his chairmanship, stating that he chaired a conflict resolution agenda for the continent themed ‘Silencing the Guns’, by empowering women and youths, strengthening democracy among other development programmes under Agenda 2063 of the union. The former AU chair further noted that his leadership’s proactive response to COVID-19 in its early weeks brought about the relatively low infections and fatalities in Africa.
In his acceptance speech, the new chairperson commended his predecessor for his achievements. He also commended other African leaders for giving him the opportunity to lead AU’s programmes for 2021.
Highlighting the theme of the year 2021, the chairperson said, arts, culture and heritage constitute the foundation of the African renaissance and offers the opportunity for Africans to return to their roots.
“Culture is indeed, as Léopold Sédar Senghor said, at the beginning and at the end of everything, because it embraces all areas of life,” he said.
Messages from US and China
Presidents of the United States of America (USA) and China, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, surprisingly featured in the 2021 summit of Africa’s Heads of States and Government. While Biden virtually addressed the summit in real time, his Chinese counterpart sent in his message.
Biden told the summit his country was ready to rebuild partnerships and re-engage international institutions like AU, apparently alluding to the diplomatic knots created by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
According to Biden, “This past year has also shown us how interconnected our world is and how our fates are bound up together.
“That’s why my administration is committed to rebuilding our partnerships around the world and re-engaging with international institutions like the African Union.
“We must all work together to advance our shared vision of a better future. A future of growing trade and investment that advances the prosperity of all our nations. A future that advances lives of peace and security for all our citizens.
“A future committed to investing in our democratic institutions and promoting the human rights of all people— women and girls, LGBTQI individuals, people with disabilities and people of every ethnic background, religion and heritage.
“To reach this future, we must also confront the serious challenges we face. That includes investing more in global health— defeating COVID-19 and working to prevent, detect, and respond to future public health crises, and partnering with the Africa CDC and other institutions to advance health security.
“Raising our climate ambitions and ensuring developing nations can mitigate and adapt to the climate impacts that are already causing pain.
“And engaging in sustained diplomacy in concert with the African Union to address conflicts that are costing lives across the African continent. None of it would be easy. But the United States stands ready to be your partner in solidarity, support and mutual respect. “We believe in the nations of Africa. In the continent-wide spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. And though the challenges are great, there is no doubt that our nations, our people, and the African Union are up to this task.”
On his part, the Chinese president hailed the high-level ties his country has been able to forge with Africa. While saying that the bilateral cooperation would get stronger, he described year 2020 as significant because the two sides supported each other to get through the difficult time during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Noting the new round of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation would be held in Senegal, Xi said that China is willing to work with Africa to reach strategic consensus, step up cooperation on COVID-19 and fully implement the achievements made in the forum’s 2018 Beijing Summit.
Xi said China is also ready to work with Africa to cement bilateral cooperation under the framework of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and strive to build a stronger community with a shared future to bring benefits to the people on both sides.
Reacting to the emergence of President Tshisekedi as African Union’s chairperson, experts have called on him to prioritise human rights and accountability on the continent.
Speaking to Blueprint on Monday, a lecturer at Department of History and International Studies, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Dr Muktar Bello opined that under Tshisekedi, AU is expected to start implementing the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, a frontline project of AU’s Agenda 2063, which is aimed at boosting intra-African trade by 52 percent.
The scholar further tasked the new chairperson to encourage domestic justice efforts and other systems aimed at addressing accountability for mass atrocities and other serious human rights abuses.
According to Bello, “Tshisekedi should use his position to reassert the deep connections between development, democracy, and human rights in Africa. He should lead the union to support a rights-driven economic development agenda in 2021.”
On AU’s 2021 agenda, ‘Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want’, a writer and poet, Idris Kabir, observed that, “Many stakeholders must be engaged for it to be realised.”