South African President Cyril Ramaphosa elected African Union Chairperson as continent vows to “silence the guns”, boost trade and close gender gap

African leaders began gathering in the Ethiopian capital early this weekend, vowing the “silence the guns” on the continent, boost trade, close the gender gap between men and women and reduce inequality.

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President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa was on Sunday elected chairperson of the African Union for the year 2020. He is replacing Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who was elected last year to serve a one year term.

Ramaphosa’s election took place at the opening of the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

African leaders began gathering in the Ethiopian capital early this weekend, vowing the “silence the guns” on the continent, boost trade, close the gender gap between men and women and reduce inequality.

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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, Cyril Ramaphosa, outlined the AU priorities to move Africa forward within the framework of Agenda 2063 including:

  • Deepening the unity of the continent;
  • Advancing inclusive economic growth and sustainable development
  • Ensuring political and economic unity, good governance and peace
  • 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
  • Championing the position of Africa as a strong and influential player in the global arena

Mr. Ramaphosa said the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which will become operational in July 2020 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.

newly elected Chairperson of the African Union President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa
newly elected Chairperson of the African Union President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa

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 empowerment of women and girls in Africa, the AU Chairperson emphasized 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 Mr. Nana Akufo Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana and the African Union Champion on Gender and Development issues in Africa.

 Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
Outgoing African Union Chairperson Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

“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 fueling ongoing conflicts on our continent.” He also expressed solidarity with the people of Palestine in their quest for an independent and sovereign state,” the African Union said in a statement received by TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C.

The AU Commission (AUC) Chairperson, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, speaking on the theme of the summit emphasized the need for solidarity among Africa 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.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission
Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission

Mr. 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.  Mr. Mahamat said that he AU continues to exert 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.

The opening of the the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The opening of the the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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 spoke on 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. He proceeded to say it is also 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 I.M. Shtayyeh, Prime Minister of the State of Palestine).

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.
  • 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. The AUC, Chairperson congratulated the Ethiopian Prime Minister Mr Abiy Ahmed on winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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