November 26, 2022

President Macky Sall of Senegal takes over as new African Union chairperson for year 2022 amid massive continental crises from Ethiopia’s Tigray region to Mozambique, from Mali to Burkina Faso, from Sudan to the Sahel

President Macky Sall of Senegal takes over the baton of command from Felix- Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who has concluded his term as the Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2021.
President Macky Sall of Senegal takes over the baton of command from Felix- Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who has concluded his term as the Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2021.

The Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) on Saturday elected Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal, as the new Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2022 amid massive continental crises from Ethiopia’s Tigray region to Mozambique, from Sudan in the north to Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Guinea Bissau in the West.

African Leaders meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the African Union Summit on Saturday, February 5, 2022

Sall’s election took place on Saturday, February 5, 2022, during the ongoing Thirty-Fifth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union, holding at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa.

The session is being held under the theme, “Strengthening Resilience in Nutrition and Food Security on the African Continent: Strengthening Agro-Food Systems, Health and Social Protection Systems for the Acceleration of the Human, Social and Economic Development.”

President Macky Sall of Senegal is taking over the baton of command from Felix- Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who has concluded his term as the Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2021.

The event took place during the official opening of the 35th AU Summit of Heads of State and Government, in the presence of the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Deputy Chairperson of the AUC, Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, representatives of the UN, the Regional Economic Commission, dignitaries and invited guests as well as the AU staff.

President Macky Sall of Senegal

The composition of the new bureau of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union for 2022 as presented by the Dean of the Permanent Representative Committee (PRC) is as follows:

  1. Chairperson of the African Union (AU) – Republic of Senegal,  (West African region)
  2. First Vice Chair of the Union – Consultations are still ongoing;
  3. Rapporteur – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – (Central African region);
  4. Second Vice  Chair of the Union –  Libya,  (Northern Region); and
  5. Third Vice  Chair of the Union –  Angola, ( Southern Region);

In his handing over speech, President Felix- Antoine Tshisekedi wished the new AU Chairperson, a successful Chairmanship and thanked the Heads of States of AU Member States as well as the AU outgoing bureau, for their support during the tenure of his mandate which he said, was marked by the prevailing sanitary crisis caused by the COVID19 pandemic. President Tshisekedi highlighted some of the achievements under his chairmanship of the Union notably, the economic empowerment of the women and youths, the enhancement of democracy and good governance, among other development programs under Agenda 2063. The outgoing Chair of the Union further underlined the initiatives undertaken under his leadership to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his acceptance speech, President Macky Sall said he appreciates the honor coupled with the responsibility and the trust invested in his person, and the members of the new Bureau, to lead the destiny of the Organization for the next one year.

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“I thank you and assure you of our commitment to work together with all member countries in the exercise of our mandate” indicated the incoming Chair of the Union.  “I pay tribute to the founding fathers of the Organization. Six decades later, their luminous vision continues to inspire our living together and to illuminate our united march towards the ideal of African integration,” He added.

President Macky Sall further noted that, it is precisely in this pan-African spirit that President Léopold Sédar Senghor had proposed, at the OAU summit of July 1964, to establish “a permanent political and moral authority of the Conference of Heads of State and Government” to give high-level impetus to the management of the affairs of the continent.

Commending the work done by his predecessor the outgoing chair of the Union, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tchilombo, the newly elected Chair of the Union expressed appreciation to the considerable efforts devoted to the service of the African continent by the outgoing Chair.

Abiy Ahmed

He further noted that, “as our Union celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, we can be proud of the progress made under major initiatives such as NEPAD, PIDA, APRM, Vision 2063, institutional reform, the Great Green Wall, the AfCFTA and more recently our coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, our challenges remain numerous and pressing; notably in the areas of peace and security, the fight against terrorism, environmental protection, health and economic and social development…” “I do not forget the resurgence of the phenomenon of coups d’état which constitutes a major attack on democracy and institutional stability on the continent”. Concluded the new AU Chair.

Human Rights Watch on Friday urged President Macky Sall of Senegal to ensure that civilian protection, human rights, and justice and accountability are the focus of the African Union’s agenda as he takes over leadership of the 55-country body.

“Senegal’s President Macky Sall is taking up the presidency of the African Union as the continent faces enormous security and health challenges, political upheaval, and social unrest,” said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite the challenges, Sall has an opportunity to demonstrate the AU’s leadership and commitment to its founding principles by taking bold, uncompromising stances against state-sponsored abuses, responding to victims’ calls for protection and justice, and pressing for equal and fair multilateral relations with the Global North.”

Human Rights Watch also called on African leaders meeting in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, between February 5 and February 6, for the African Union summit, to urge Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to release thousands of Tigrayans being held across the country. They should also use their time in Africa’s second most populous nation to address “rampant abuses occurring in the conflict in Ethiopia.”

The human rights organization noted that during the first two weeks of January, at least 108 civilians were killed in government airstrikes in Tigray, including 59 in a January 7 airstrike on an internal displacement site. 

“And while the government has released some detainees in recent weeks, thousands of Tigrayans arbitrarily detained under the country’s sweeping state of emergency remain in informal and formal detention sites,” it wrote.

A severely malnourished child is treated in the intensive care unit at Ayder Referral Hospital in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. (UGC via Associated Press)

The organization noted that many violations by Ethiopia’s warring parties are war crimes and some may amount to crimes against humanity.  The war between fighters affiliated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian federal government and its allies, including Eritrea, now ongoing for more than a year, is having a devastating impact on civilians, the organization said.

“Despite recently allowing limited humanitarian supplies to enter Tigray via air, the federal government has for seven months maintained an effective siege on the region, preventing millions of people from accessing food, medicine, cash, and fuel, as well as basic services. In the adjacent Amhara region, communities displaced by fighting and abuses have described looting and destruction of health centers, and limited access to medical care and food,” Human Rights Watch wrote.

“AU member states should not ignore the serious crimes committed by all warring parties, including federal government forces, in Ethiopia’s conflict,” Kaneza Nantulya said. “Given the gravity of the crimes, the AU should respond and act under its prevention and protection mandate by calling on all warring parties to end abuses and pressing the government to lift its effective siege of Tigray.”

Tigray’s defense forces

The organization added that beyond the Ethiopian crisis, civilians have been the target of attack elsewhere on the continent.

It said, “Armed Islamist groups, government forces, and allied militia fighters killed at least 800 civilians during attacks across the Sahel region in 2021. About 700,000 children are out of school in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions due to attacks by armed separatist groups. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the government’s imposition of military rule to address insecurity in the region has not improved civilian protection. More than 1,900 civilians have been killed since the start of martial law in May 2021. 

“In Mozambique, the Islamic State (ISIS)-linked insurgent group, locally known as Al-Shabab or Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, has committed numerous grave abuses, including indiscriminate attacks against civilians, kidnappings, and sexual violence. Government forces have also been implicated in serious abuses, including threats and unlawful use of force against civilians.

“Past Human Rights Watch research has underscored the nexus between security and accountability. In many contexts, the lack of justice for serious crimes – past and present – by government forces has fueled recruitment by armed groups. The African Union should rethink its counterterrorism and counterinsurgency approach and put the rule of law and justice and accountability at the forefront, Human Rights Watch said. 

“The AU should also support efforts across the continent to establish and effectively put in place specialized mechanisms to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes. In South Sudan, the AU’s legitimacy is at stake after more than four years of discussion with the government on establishing a hybrid court that could help break the country’s cycles of violence and impunity. In Chad, Hissène Habré’s victims still await reparations from the fund the court established in 2016.

“A surge in coups and military takeovers over the past year, including in Burkina Faso, ChadGuinea, Mali, and Sudan, has often denied citizens the right to choose their government, reversed hard-won progress on the rule of law, and resulted in grave human rights abuses. The instability, civic unrest, and political upheavals are frequently rooted in people’s grievances about corruption and the perceived unwillingness of political elites to uphold their constitutional obligations and promises of reform, including promoting political pluralism and stepping down at the end of their term

“Although term limits are not required by international law, the lack of term limits – combined in many cases with political repression and election rigging – undermines the spirit of democracy and has facilitated a pattern in many countries in which incumbents maintain power through periodic elections that are neither free nor fair. This has led to elected governments that are democratic in name only – but authoritarian in all other respects.

“Of the 10 African countries with the greatest number of people displaced, 9 have authoritarian-leaning governments, making the shrinking civic and political space a key factor in Africa’s population movements. To achieve real progress toward respect for human rights and people-centered democratic governance, the African Union should adopt and enforce additional policy tools to support the regular, peaceful, and democratic transfer of power. That should include an AU ban on unlimited and unaccountable executive power and stronger policies and tools to deter election rigging and political repression.

“The AU should take action not just as a matter of democracy building, but to better manage increasing cross-border refugee and security issues,” Kaneza Nantulya said. “African leaders should see the peaceful transfer of power through credible elections as a key element in promoting the security of everyone on the continent.”

“The AU needs a concerted response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as fewer than 10 percent of the continent’s people are fully vaccinated, mainly because countries have unequal access to vaccines. To address this challenge, Sall should use his AU presidency to urge member states to increase their investment in health infrastructures, while pressing Western governments to ensure that companies that developed safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines transfer technology widely to capable manufacturers in Africa and to the World Health Organization technology hubs.

“Sall should also press Western governments and multilateral institutions to adopt a waiver of intellectual property protections on vaccines, treatments, and testing that has been stalled for more than a year at the World Trade Organization.

“The African Union should encourage its members to put in place and expand social protection systems to fulfill the rights to social security and an adequate standard of living amid rising poverty and economic disparities caused by Covid-19 responses,” Kaneza Nantulya said.

A screen grab shows Capt. Kader Ouedraogo confirming the military coup on state television in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on January 24, 2022. © 2022 Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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