Republic of South Africa Minister of Homes Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She is being pushed to takeover the African Union Commission Chair in the near future., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Trade, security top agenda as AU summit begins
Monday, 16 July 2012 00:00 From Oghogho Obayuwana and Bola Olajuwon, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia News - National
THE 19th ordinary session of the Assembly of heads of state and government of the African Union (AU) opened yesterday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with the leaders of 53 nations pushing for improved inter-regional trade to the continent from the scourge of perpetual dependency.
Security was also on the front burner as speaker after speaker at the gathering that included heads of international organisations and institutions, lamented the worsening poverty levels and instability on the continent. They reeled out a catalogue of woes such as burgeoning flashpoints (Mali, Sudan, Guinea, renewed violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and~ the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria among others) and then called for greater solidarity among the states in order to realise the lofty goals of the newly launched African Solidarity Initiative (ISI).
Known as Africa Helping Africa, the initiative has been launched in support of post conflict reconstruction and development in Africa.
Addressing the assembly yesterday, chairperson of the AU Commission, Jean Ping, said inter-regional trade in Africa was at an abnormally low 10 per cent of total trade whereas the same for Europe stands at 60 per cent.
Ping, on behalf of the body, commiserated with Nigeria on the death of scores of people killed while scooping up oil from an overturned oil tanker in Rivers State.
But it was the AU chairman, Benin Republic President Boni Yayi, whose opening statement sank in the most. According to him, greater solidarity is needed now by the body in the midst of “worsening security concerns across the continent.”
He said: “We have with us security and institutional crisis, growing terrorism in parts of Nigeria, drug trafficking, the debt problem. These crises call for more support from us and our organs in other to face up with the new challenges.”
He expanded the theme of the summit-Boosting Inter African Trade into a dual banner adding -Shared Values as the other half. Into this, he noted, belonged regional cooperation, integrated trade and peace and security.
He challenged African states to brace themselves to the fallouts that the sudden debt crisis in the euro zone might have on their economies.
“I call upon you today to make 2013 the year of agriculture and food security in Africa. I urge you to set priorities for your countries in this regard”, he added.
On a positive note, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir shook hands as leaders filed into the meeting, following their first face-to-face talks on Saturday since the border fighting took them to the brink of an all-out war.
The need to up the ante on fast tracking development had been in the air before the leaders went into closed doors to deliberate on the summit agenda.
Development lobbyists here in Addis, had pushed to the front burner a citizen’s petition asking the leaders to implement agriculture investment plans that could save 31 million Africans from poverty and 12 million children from stunted growth.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, said it and the AU would continue to work together to confront the real problems “facing the people of our world on a daily basis -poverty, diseases, natural disasters, environmental degradation, conflict and violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, who stood in for Ban, also spoke on the situation in Mali, Guinea Bissau, DRC, Somalia as well as the Gulf of Guinea.
The Summit’s guest of honour, the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber, the Secretary-General of the Arab League Dr. Nabil Al-Arabi, as well as the president of the Palestinian National Authority and chairman Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee Mohamud Abbas, called for greater collaboration with the AU. Al- Arabi stressed the need for complimentarity of African and Arab parliaments as well as cooperation between the Peace and Security Council of the AU and the Arab league.
The summit also welcomed new leaders into its fold. They included Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at a briefing shortly after the opening of the summit yesterday erroneously claimed that Nigeria’s Peter Onu had served as the chairperson of the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) “for over two years.”
Mrs. Zuma was fielding a question regarding the violation of the unwritten agreement forbidding the big contributing nations to the check-off dues of the AU (Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Libya) from taking the position of the Chairperson of the body.
Attempts by The Guardian to set the records straight were thwarted by the coordinator who only recognised apparently known journalists for questions.
Ambassador Onu who was deputy secretary, only served for months in an acting capacity.
On why she was back again for the hot seat after the January stalemate, Zuma said: “I come from a region that has never held the position. The entire Southern African region has asked me to be in the race... The Constitutive Act of the AU sees all countries as equal. It is me that is running as a person, an African and not South Africa...”
Yayi who, upon arrival in Addis Ababa, spoke on the contest for the chairperson’s position between Zuma and Ping, warned that another failure to agree on a new head may damage the reputation of the 54-member body.
“Africans and the outside world will be judging our capacity to unite our continent on our success in choosing a new commission chairman.... This time round, we must not fail,” Yayi also told the Assembly yesterday.
If no chair is selected at this summit, Ping — who has held the post since 2008 — could legally be asked to stay on as leader until the next summit in January 2013.