By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK | ADDIS ABABA (IDN) – Rwandan President Paul Kagame has turned over the leadership of the 55-member African Union (AU) to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt, at the 32nd ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
El-Sisi has pledged to work for the welfare of African people during his one-year tenure. He said that over the next one year he would energetically work toward achieving the goals set by the AU during the summit.
These include putting into force the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), efforts to reform the UN Security Council, rehabilitation of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and providing employment to the continent’s large young population. According to the AU, various conflicts across the African continent have left 20.8 million people displaced.
On top of his list of African economic integration schemes is the AfCFTA, which is expected to formally start operations during the next AU summit in Niamey, capital of Niger, in July.
“Many African countries are already grouped under Regional Economic Communities (RECs), my chairmanship will focus on how RECs can be a vehicle to achieve wider continental economic integration,” said el-Sisi.
“The start of operation of AfCFTA will not just ease movement of goods across African borders, but also facilitate the movement of African brainpower across the borders of African countries, adding social importance on top of political and economic benefits,” he added.
El-Sisi is also expected to concentrate on security and financial reform, but with no great plans to strengthen the AU’s multilateral powers. Instead, the focus is expected to be on combating illegal immigration while Egypt presents itself as a model for hosting refugees.
The selection of Egyptian president el-Sisi has been met with sharp criticism by Amnesty International’s North Africa campaign director, Najia Bounaim. “Under his leadership the country has undergone a catastrophic decline in rights and freedoms,” she said. “He demonstrates a shocking contempt for human rights.”
The African Union has also disappointed civilians who hoped it would fulfil the objectives of promoting democratic principles and institutions.
Among the recent events that the African Union was unable to effectively address was the disputed poll in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The AU said there were serious doubts about the outcome of the vote and called on Kinshasa to suspend the final results. The call was flatly rejected.
Also, in 2015, Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza went against his country’s constitution to run for a third term in office in a vote boycotted by the opposition.
Deadly violence followed. The AU said it will send in 5,000 peacekeepers but Nkurunziza said he will consider the move an invasion. The bloc backed down and said it will send observers instead.
AU’s outgoing chair is Rwanda’s Paul Kagame who has been in power since 2000.
Following a referendum in 2015, Kagame can rule landlocked Rwanda until 2034. Uganda and Congo have also removed term limits for their long-serving leaders.
One of the biggest challenges that continues to face the AU is the lack of money to finance its big ambitions and pledges.
Currently, 72 percent of the AU’s budget is funded by external partners.
“Promoting peace and security is one of the core functions of our union. However, up to this point, we have lacked a credible mechanism to fund our priority operations in this domain. We depended too extensively on external resources,” President Kagame said last year.
Finally, as the heads of state were entering the main meeting room, a scuffle broke out over the newly-erected statue of Ethiopia’s last emperor. Haile Selassie was given pride of place for establishing the predecessor of the AU – the Organization of African Unity. The OAU ceased to exist in its original form in 2002, and was replaced by the African Union. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 February 2019]
Photo: Participants pose for a group photo during the opening of the 32nd African Union (AU) summit of heads of state and government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 10, 2019. Second from left in the front row is Egyptian President El-Sisi and third from right is Rwanda President Kagame. Credit: Xinhua/Micharl Tewelde
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