In a few days, Egypt will take up the presidency of the African Union (AU) for 2019, signalling the trust of the African countries in the credibility and transparency of Egyptian leadership.
The AU Assembly of heads of state and government has already elected Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for a one-year term succeeding Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The AU is one of the most effective continental organisations consisting of 55 African countries and launched in 2002 to replace the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), established in 1963.
The AU aims at accelerating the process of integration on the continent to make it a complete actor in the global economy while preserving the peace and stability of the African countries.
Accordingly, Egypt seeks to promote the AU’s 2063 Vision and to accomplish its objectives through addressing the political, economic and social challenges that may hinder the integration of the continent.
Egypt is now reaping the fruit of the soft power it has accumulated over the previous four years through which it retained its leading positions in the international order.
Egypt plays a pivotal role as an effective actor on the African continent through boosting preventive diplomacy, promoting strategies of peace-keeping and peace-building in collaboration with the United Nations, countering international terrorism, preserving the sustainability of economic development emphasising the prosperity of the African peoples and placing the continent as a top priority on Egypt’s agenda.
During Egypt’s presidency of the AU’s Peace and Security Council in January 2018, and its membership of the African Council from April 2016 to April 2019, it focused on preventing conflicts, maintaining peace and security on the African continent and promoting coordination between the efforts of the UN and AU in preventive diplomacy.
Building on these remarkable efforts, Egypt’s chairmanship of the Group of 77 plus China (G-77/China) organisation also contributed to supporting the economic development of developing countries and boosting South-South cooperation.
Egypt’s presidency of the AU this year will contribute effectively to consolidating ties with the African countries that will result in mutual economic gains, widening Egyptian and foreign investments in infrastructure projects, human resources, renewable energies projects and facilitating trade exchange, domestic industries, increased employment rates, the improved quality of education and better skills in manpower.
Economic cooperation can be a catalyst for reforming the economies of the African countries to create more competitive ones capable of achieving economic regional integration and being part of the international economic order.
One of the main objectives of the AU since its establishment has been to achieve regional economic integration that encompasses seven main stages across the continent, among them preferential trade agreements, free-trade areas, a customs union, a common market, economic and monetary union and finally complete integration.
In this context, Egypt initiated the establishment of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) in 2015 with the three biggest economic blocs on the continent, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
Building on such achievements, Egypt supported the AU’s accession to the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) through ensuring the enforcement of the African Free Trade Agreement that set out main steps towards achieving regional integration.
Egypt seeks to promote new investments in Africa, establishing joint infrastructure projects to support investment and trade, enhancing the role of the African private sector to increase investment rates, executing programmes to encourage entrepreneurship and advancing the economic empowerment of youth and women.
Egypt seeks to launch a presidential leadership programme for African youth and encourage Egyptian businessmen to establish services and facilities in the African countries.
Furthermore, Egypt’s presidency of the AU will assist in the development of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, as Egypt was one of the earliest countries that supported the Initiative from its launch in 2013.
The Initiative aims to promote economic growth and development regionally and internationally as it builds a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road.
Egypt participated in the Third Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) intended to consolidate ties between China and the African continent. It hosted the Africa Economic Forum in December 2018 for the second time and the Intra-African Trade Fair with the participation of private-sector leaders in order to identify potential opportunities for investments in the African countries and provide recommendations for promoting economic development.
Egyptian soft and hard power can also assist effectively in countering terrorism on the continent through eradicating its main sources, boosting the capabilities of African armed forces and peace-keeping forces, and mediating in the conflicts in Sudan.
It can help to solve the Nile Basin crisis by emphasising the rights of the Nile Basin countries to fair development without harming the rights of others and preserving adequate shares of Nile water.
The international order encourages dynamic international policies as well as the multi-polarity that can push forward and boost the unity of developing countries through deepening South-South cooperation.
It is by strengthening cooperation at all levels that comprehensive peace and sustainable economic development across the African continent can be achieved.
*The writer is an economist at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 January, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Egypt’s presidency of the African Union