“I emphasise that Egypt will work hard to continue along the road we started together towards the structural and financial reform of the African Union [AU] and build on previous achievements in developing the tools and abilites of the Union in order to meet the hopes and aspirations of African peoples,” said President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi during the opening of the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU.
President Al-Sisi started his one-year term as chair of the AU during the Ordinary Session which kicked off in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Sunday under the banner “The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa.”
He officially received the chairmanship from outgoing AU chairperson, Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Al-Sisi highlighted principles which will help the continent develop “African solutions for African problems”.
Ali Hefni, former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister, said African states are well aware of the problems they face and are capable of resolving them either through cooperation between governments or within the framework of the AU.
Amani Al-Taweel, a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), says the vast majority of the issues facing Africa can only be addressed from within the continent.
“Foreign interference has not contributed to resolving conflicts in countries like Mali or the Central African Republic. Moreover, the increasing trend to establish military bases in African countries may have dangerous repercussions for the continent,” she said.
President Al-Sisi’s speech before the AU session highlighted ongoing problems requiring prompt action.
In his speech, Al-Sisi highlighted the main issues facing the African continent and the importance of cooperation in resolving conflicts and moving on to reconstruction and development and called on African states to launch an African Union Centre for Reconstruction and Development as soon as possible.
The president characterised terrorism as a “malign tumour threatening nation states and hijacking the dreams of their peoples” and stressed the importance of identifying its supporters and financiers and dealing with them within a clear framework.
In line with the summit’s theme of refugees and displaced persons, Al-Sisi said there are eight million African refugees and 18 million displaced citizens.
He pointed to the importance of empowering African women and allowing young people to play a more active role in building the future of their countries.
Al-Sisi also used his speech to launch the Aswan Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development, a continental platform in Aswan for political leaders, intellectuals and opinion-makers.
In its presidency of the AU, says Hefni, Egypt is expected to focus on two main issues, peace and security, which involve facing terrorism and resolving ongoing conflicts.
But to attain the goal of making Africa a conflict-free continent by 2020 will involve facilitating development as well as enhancing the economy and boosting inter-African trade.
“On an economic level Egypt is looking forward to consolidating a free trade area in Africa after economic blocs like COMESA, SADC and EAC, and the Tripartite Free Trade Area in Sharm El-Sheikh proved to be a success,” says Al-Taweel.
Improving infrastructure and building a network of highways like the suggested Cape Town-Cairo road will give a genuine boost to the continent’s economy, she added.
Other important meetings took place on the sidelines of the AU summit.
A tripartite summit between President Al-Sisi, his Sudanese counterpart Omar Al-Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed focused on promoting relations and cooperation among the three states as well as resolving outstanding differences over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The meeting continues the talks between the three leaders initiated at the AU summit in January 2018, said Presidential Spokesman Bassam Radi.
The three leaders stressed the urgency of developing a consensus on the dam based on the declaration of principles signed in Khartoum which stipulates the dam should not cause harm to any of the involved parties.
President Al-Sisi also met the President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The two leaders said they were committed to promoting greater bilateral consultation and coordination via joint committees.
Nile water was one of the issues discussed between the two men. Tshisekedi said that his country is willing to support Egypt on issues relevant to the Nile water.
During his meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Al-Sisi said that he looked forward to further strengthening the strategic partnership between the UN and the AU, particularly in areas related to peace, security and development.
Guterres congratulated Al-Sisi on Egypt’s chairing of the AU and noted that the UN relies on Cairo to consolidate cooperation and integration with the pan-African organisation.
He affirmed Egypt’s key role in Africa and the UN’s keenness to bolster cooperation and development and preserve regional peace and security.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri took part in pre-summit ministerial meetings which included sessions with his counterparts from South Africa, Burundi, Tanzania and Gabon.
He also took part in the seventh AU High Level Committee meeting on Libya and participated in the two-day meeting of the AU Executive Council.
Egypt, Angola, South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria head the contributors to the AU’s budget. Egypt’s share is 12 per cent.
This is the fourth time Egypt has chaired the Union. It was chaired once by president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and twice by president Anwar Al-Sadat.
The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
On 9 September 1999 the Heads of State and Government of the OAU issued the Sirte Declaration calling for the establishment of the AU and accelerating the process of unity among countries of the continent.
The AU was officially launched at the Durban Summit in 2002 and the first assembly of heads of states of the AU was convened.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 February, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Homegrown solutions for Africa