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Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Egypt in the AU: A year of active diplomacy

During its presidency of the African Union, Egypt highlighted the needs of the continent to the world

Doaa El-Bey , Wednesday 12 Feb 2020
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Spurring joint African action, finding African solutions to African problems and setting development goals were a priority for Egypt in 2019 when it chaired the African Union.

Security, stability, development and prosperity of the black continent were also for Egypt a priority in the framework of the Africa 2063 agenda.

“African solidarity is a vital entity that can move situations and impose itself on events, and is not just a theoretical slogan,” President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said in his address to the 33rd African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa this week before he handed Egypt’s one-year presidency to South Africa.

The chair is a rotating position among the five main regions in the continent.

Ali Al-Hefni, former deputy to Egypt’s foreign minister, said that out of a deep understanding to the needs and challenges of the continent, Egypt worked last year to present those problems in every international forum that the president attended as the president of the AU.

Egypt’s presidency saw an exchange of visits between African heads of states and top diplomats, Al-Hefni said. In addition, the continent’s needs and challenges were presented in international forums from Russia to Berlin and from Osaka to China, he added.

Perhaps one of the most important and pressing challenges that Egypt faced during its presidency was enhancing peace and security as a strategic goal for our continent as well as achieving economic and continental integration, Al-Hefni said.

Holding the first edition of the Aswan Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development in December 2019 was an important step towards reaching the target. The forum was a regional and continental platform gathering political, intellectual and opinion leaders and peacemakers to discuss what the forum said were joint horizons between peace and sustainable development in order to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

Al-Sisi also attended the annual Munich Security Policy Conference in February 2019 in which he highlighted security challenges facing the African continent, migration issues and ways of fighting terrorism. He also referred to Libya as one of the most pressing African issues requiring a solution.

The meeting was followed in October by the Core Group of the Munich Security Conference. It discussed regional security cooperation, the situation in the Horn of Africa and instability in Libya, Sudan and the Arab region in general, as well as common challenges facing Arab and African states.

The other positive step was the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), one of the AU’s biggest priorities. The free trade area contributes to reducing the cost of many goods and increasing African competitiveness internationally.

However, states need to work together on completing African trade and investment to achieve tangible results for the continent’s people.

President of South Africa and now President of the AU Cyril Ramaphosa said an extraordinary meeting will be held in the middle of this year to discuss the activation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Several meetings were held last year to help boost the continent’s economic performance, including the G20 Summit in Osaka in June and the G20-Compact with the Africa summit in Germany in November. Osaka provided a good opportunity to serve the interests of African states on the political and economic levels while the G20 gathering aimed at boosting economic growth and mutual prosperity among its members and African countries.
Extremism and terrorism was another challenge facing the continent. African leaders discussed convening a special African summit to establish a counter-terrorism African force. Egypt expressed a desire to host the conference.

“I affirm Egypt is ready to host this special African summit stemming from its responsibility and believing in the importance of this proposed [force] to achieve peace and security in Africa,” Al-Sisi said.

Extensive discussions on all organisational aspects related to the proposed summit will take place through the African Union Peace and Security Council. The results will be presented to the AU Commission.

Holding the summit and creating an African force, according to Al-Hefni, shows that the will to protect the continent should come from within the continent.

“With all respect to efforts from external parties to maintain peace in the continent, especially in the Sahel and east Africa, we should work to make all these efforts come from within the continent,” Al-Hefni explained.

Another challenge facing the continent is controlling or ending conflicts. Egypt called on African leaders to launch activities of the African Union Centre for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development AUC-PCRD. The centre, which Cairo hosts, is designed to act as a coordinating platform for preparing special programmes for post-conflict countries based on the characteristics and needs of each country.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and AU Chairman Moussa Faki signed the AUC-PCRD Agreement during the Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development in Aswan in December.

This week’s AU Summit was held under the theme “Silencing the Guns”, an ambitious plan to collect illegal weapons across the continent by 2020, in addition to promoting the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts in Africa.

September 2020 will be an amnesty month in which those possessing illegally acquired guns can hand them in to the authorities without penalty.

“Silencing the Guns” was set out by African leaders in 2013 to end war on the continent by 2020.

Although there is still a lot of work needed to reach the target, 2019 saw some successes. The AU managed to prevent Sudan’s revolution from descending into violence and helped produce an agreement between the government and rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The AU Summit in 2019 was held under the theme “Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”. The issue was given priority throughout 2019. President Al-Sisi said in his address at this week’s summit that problems facing the continent including the spread of conflict, terrorism, extremism, poverty, water scarcity and drought, all factors that force people to leave their homes. As a result, the number of African refugees is eight million, 90 per cent of whom are refugees in the continent. Displaced people account for 18 million.

“This compels us to adopt a development approach that includes mega continental and regional projects to provide job opportunities to citizens of the continent,” Al-Sisi said.

Building and improving the continent’s infrastructure and working on continental mega projects are long-term plans that need time and effort.

However, some projects that are a priority to the AU may see the light of day in the next few years. The projects include connecting Cairo and Cape Town by land, North-South power linkage and linking the Mediterranean with Lake Victoria.    

The founding fathers, who included Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, laid the foundation stone of the Organisation of African Union (OAU) in Addis Ababa in May 1963. It was replaced by the AU in 1999 in a declaration in Sirte, Libya and officially launched in 2002 in Durban, South Africa.

Although Egypt has passed on its one-year presidency, its mission in the AU is ongoing as the president pointed out in this week’s address.

“I would like to stress that Egypt will work hard to continue the path we have embarked on together as regards the institutional, structural and financial reform of the union,” Al-Sisi said.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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