Friday, January 30, 2015

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe Assumes African Union Chairmanship
January 31, 2015
From Caesar Zvayi in ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
Zimbabwe Herald

PRESIDENT Mugabe yesterday assumed the chairmanship of the African Union when the 24th Ordinary Session of the General Assembly opened here, despite spirited opposition from his and Zimbabwe’s traditional detractors.

Western countries — led by the United States — who account for over 60 percent of the AU budget and sought to use that as leverage, were issuing veiled threats against the AU saying the continental body should refuse to be led by a man and country under sanctions.

This is despite the fact that the West’s illegal sanctions regime imposed at the turn of the millennium has been condemned, not only by the AU, but by other progressive bodies the world over.

The opening ceremony began with a declaration of the opening of the session by AU chairman Mr Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

This was followed by the singing of the AU Anthem by the African Union Commission Choir; after which a minute of silence was observed in memory of Zambian president Michael Chilufya Sata who died on October 29 last year.

Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma then delivered her opening remarks followed by UN secretary-general Mr Ban Ki Moon, AU chair Mr Abdelaziz, and then came the presentation of Heads of State and Government who assumed office since the last session among them the presidents of Tunisia, Malawi, and Zambia, and a farewell address by Namibian leader Hifikepunye Pohamba.

Then came the moment many were waiting for, the announcement of the election of the Chairperson of the African Union and members of the Bureau and members of the drafting Committee.

Just before 1pm, 12:40pm to be precise, the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps took to the podium to announce the election results amid applause and ululation as he announced that the chairmanship was going to Zimbabwe, deputised by first vice chairman the DRC (representing central Africa), second vice chair Niger (representing West Africa), third vice chair Kenya (representing East Africa) with the special rapporteur, as per tradition, going to immediate past chair Mauritania.

President Mugabe was then invited to the podium for the ceremonial handover of the instruments of office, the AU Flag, gavel and charter, and the podium broke into applause with President Mugabe pumping his right fist into the air in response to chants of ‘‘comrade’’ from some delegates.

The significance of the moment lay not only in the fact that Zimbabwe had completed its transmission from an agenda item to leadership at that proud hour, but in that Africa thumped its nose at westerners who have long portrayed Zimbabwe and President Mugabe as pariahs on the continent.

The election was also a virtual vindication of Zimbabwe’s trajectory which is today mirrored in the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063, the continental development plan for the next 50 years that reflects many of the tenets of Zim-Asset, Zimbabwe’s economic blue-print for the five-year period, 2013 to 2018.

And in his acceptance speech President Mugabe promised to intentionally provoke the continent to think development.

‘’During my tenure as Chair, I will deliberately provoke your thoughts to pay special attention to issues of infrastructure, value-addition and beneficiation, agriculture and climate change in the context of Africa’s development,’’ he said.

‘‘Numerous studies have pointed out that the lack of physical infrastructure and interconnectedness in Africa has hampered economic development. Our roads, rail, air and sea route networks are not sufficiently developed to stimulate intra-African trade, investment and tourism. We need to continue, and perhaps redouble, our current collective efforts in this sector,’’ President Mugabe said.

To this day, Africa’s transport and communication infrastructure mirrors the travails of the colonial era, leading either to the sea or erstwhile colonial capitals. For instance there are no direct flights between many of Africa’s regions as these have to be routed through European capitals.

President Mugabe who has for long complained about the AU’s trajectory, urged the continent to harness its resources for national development.

‘’Given that the continent is rich in mineral resources, such resources should be seen to contribute more meaningfully to Africa’s development. While we continue to exploit the mineral resources, we seem not to have paid sufficient attention to their value-addition and beneficiation. If the present practice of exporting our minerals in their semi or raw form continues, Africa will continue to have people without employment, who languish in extreme poverty,’’ he said.

Afer delivering his acceptance speech, the new AU chair then launched 2015 as the “Year of women empowerment and development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063 “ in line with the theme of the 24th Summit.

After that the Summit, which enters its second and final day today, went into plenary as the leaders tackled this year’s broad agenda.

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