The 35th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU), which began on Saturday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and lasted for two days, saw delegates unequivocally condemn the recent wave of coups that has been taking place across the continent and re-emphasise their commitment to maintaining peace and security while calling for continuing African solidarity in addressing the impacts of Covid-19.
Senegalese President Macky Sall took over the one-year rotating chairmanship of the AU from President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Felix Tshisekedi at the session, with political instability and the military coups overshadowing the original theme of the meeting, which was “Building Resilience in Nutrition on the African Continent: Accelerating Human Capital and Social and Economic Development”.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri reviewed Egypt’s efforts to promote peace and security in Africa at the meeting. He said Egypt was making every effort to help to overcome the challenges facing the African countries in achieving the goals and aspirations of their peoples for a better future, according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.
Egypt’s top diplomat hailed the establishment of the AU Centre for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) in Cairo in December last year as a tool to deal with such challenges. He described the PCRD as the executive arm of the post-conflict reconstruction and development policy adopted by the AU.
It has been a difficult year for the continent, explained one diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity, as war has erupted in various places, including Sudan and Ethiopia, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, and there have been continuing problems of terrorism as well as climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
He lamented the AU’s failure to address the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), another pressing issue in east Africa.
Moussa Faki, chair of the African Union Commission (AUC), said that the meeting came as the continent was facing “many challenges”, perhaps the most pressing being the “unprecedented scale of terrorism together with the wave of coups and unconstitutional changes of government” on the continent. These presented “new destabilising factors” in Africa, he said.
The AU, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, was established to boost cooperation and peace across the continent. However, it has been criticised for failing to take decisive action in the face of the six coups or attempted coups that have taken place in Africa over the past 18 months.
While the AU has suspended the membership of Mali, Guinea, Sudan, and Burkina Faso following military takeovers, questions were raised about whether this would impact the new leaders of these countries.
The devastating impacts of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic presented another challenge to the continent, especially on the economic level, delegates said.
Faki noted that the pandemic had led to a contraction in growth of 2.1 per cent in 2020 and an increase in debt by 10 per cent of GDP, necessitating a continental strategy that will focus on the identification of innovative sources of financing, debt cancellation, and reducing the harmful effects of the pandemic.
Making the Covid-19 vaccines available to all Africans is another challenge. During the meeting, Faki raised concerns about the unavailability of the vaccines for most Africans and asked African leaders to support the African Centres for Disease Control.
Up until 26 January, only 11 per cent of Africa’s more than one billion people had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Africa CDC and the African Medicines Agency (AMA) are likely to play leading roles in the implementation of the AU strategy of facing up to the pandemic and other public health issues on the continent.
Africa CDC is an AU specialised institution that was officially launched in 2017 to support public health initiatives by member states and strengthen the capacity of their public health institutions to detect, prevent, control and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats.
The AMA, established in November last year, aims to regulate the African pharmaceutical landscape and efforts to improve weak regulatory systems.
Israel’s accreditation as an observer to the AU was raised during the summit meeting. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh urged the AU to withdraw Israel’s accreditation.
“Israel should not be rewarded for its violations and for the apartheid regime it has imposed on the Palestinian people,” he said.
Faki emphasised during his opening address the AU’s commitment to the Palestinian push for independence as “unchanging and [one that] can only get stronger.” In response to criticism from member states, Faki defended his decision as being based on the “reality on the ground” since many African countries had recognised and were doing business with Israel, he said.
So far, he told the meeting, Israel is recognised by 46 of the 55 AU member states and has 17 embassies and 12 consulates in Africa.
The assembly was supposed to discuss Israel’s accreditation and take a decision on it. However, due to the controversy, the decision was postponed and instead a committee will be set up to study the matter, the diplomat said.
Faki accepted Israel’s accreditation to the bloc last July, causing debate within the AU. Some African states including South Africa are pushing for Israel’s status to be revoked, while others, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the 2021 AU chair, have supported Israel’s presence.
Other issues like the conflict in Ethiopia and ways to secure a ceasefire, unrest in Sudan following a coup in October, and plans for the smooth exit of foreign fighters from Libya were other challenges facing the meeting.
The AU meeting provided an opportunity for Shoukri to hold meetings on the sidelines of the assembly, including with Deputy Secretary-General of the UN Amina Mohamed.
Shoukri underlined Egypt’s support for stability in Somalia during his meeting with his Somali counterpart Abd Said Musa Ali.
Egypt hosted a retreat in Cairo on the post-2021 arrangements in Somalia last month organised by the International Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding (CCCPA) in cooperation with the AU, the federal government of Somalia, the UN, and international partners.
The retreat aimed to provide a space for informal consultations between Somali officials and African and international partners in order to discuss post-2021 arrangements in Somalia, given the end of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mandate in March.
With a view to tackling the issue of climate change that is another challenge to the continent, Shoukri took part in the meeting of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), where he underlined that Egypt would voice Africa’s aspiration to confront the impacts of climate change before the upcoming 27th UN Conference of the Parties (COP27) meeting due to be held in Egypt in November.
The CAHOSCC meeting was held on Sunday on the sidelines of the AU meeting.
“Given that Egypt is the chair of COP27, it will espouse a comprehensive approach that takes into account the concerns and priorities of the various parties. Cairo will also back all African countries in their efforts in a way that contributes to the success of its hosting of the conference,” read a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry after the meeting.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.