Continental action

Doaa El-Bey , Tuesday 21 Feb 2023

The principle of “African solutions for African problems” was reaffirmed during the 36th ordinary session of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU), held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 18-19 February.

Continental action
Shoukri at the AU summit


In an address to the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) ahead of the African summit, delivered on behalf of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri highlighted the importance of concerted efforts to contain conflict on the continent and underlined that a comprehensive perspective is needed to deal with African challenges in a way that addresses their root causes as well as the resulting social and economic problems.

The focus of this week’s summit, held under the banner “AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation”, was on economic as well as security concerns, said former deputy foreign minister Ali Al-Hefni. He noted that the war in Ukraine posed a major challenge to the continent because of its impact on food, energy, tourism, and other fields.

The summit followed the second Dakar Conference on Agriculture and Food Security, held in late January under the banner “Feeding Africa, Food Sovereignty and Resilience”, which highlighted the importance of the continent not only achieving self-sufficiency in food production but producing a surplus that could help feed the world, Al-Hefni told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The importance of resolving conflicts in Africa was reflected in UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s address to the summit. He urged African leaders to take more “action for peace”, saying that the continent’s 1.4 billion people faced “enormous tests... that are greater than any in our lifetimes”.

The UN chief urged the bloc to “continue to battle for peace”.  

Moussa Faki, chair of the African Union Commission (AUC), told summit attendees that the economic problems the world has faced over the last three years made it imperative for member states to pursue their economic and development goals with determination. He called for the activation of mechanisms that can enhance internal resilience and intra-African solidarity, including accelerating the implementation of AfCFTA.

African nations currently trade 15 per cent of their goods and services with each other. By eliminating almost all tariffs, AfCFTA, to which 54 out of 55 African states are signatories — Eritrea is the only holdout — aims to boost intercontinental trade by 60 per cent by 2034. Implementation, however, faces several hurdles, including disagreements over tariff reductions, currency values and border closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Accelerating free trade across the continent should begin with boosting bilateral trade between African states and full implementation of the recommendations agreed in 2015 to further cooperation among the continent’s three main economic blocs, COMESA, the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), argued Al-Hefni.

Negotiations to establish a tripartite free trade area among the three blocs were launched in 2011, and a Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) Agreement was signed in June 2015 in Sharm El-Sheikh. Fourteen ratifications are required for the TFTA Agreement to enter into force. So far only 11 countries have signed the agreement.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed highlighted the principle of African solutions to African problems, calling on member states to show solidarity with one another in times of crisis. He warned, however, that solidarity is not a silver bullet since not all of the continent’s problems — he cited climate change as an example — were of Africa’s making.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing Africa and Shoukri was keen to review the outcomes of COP27, not least the creation of a fund to finance climate damage in developing nations. He called on international financial organisations to review their policies vis-à-vis developing countries, and for an action plan to promote a just energy transition that takes into account the specific economic and social dimensions of African states.

Though Africa’s contribution to global warming is insignificant, climate change is affecting the continent more severely than other regions.

During the summit, Comoros President Azali Assoumani took over the rotating chair of the AU from Senegal’s Macky Sall. Assoumani took on the role following the withdrawal of Kenyan President William Ruto from the race. Comoros is the first island state to lead the continental bloc.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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