DRC’s Tshisekedi, AU’s new chair, vows to make the organisation relevant
On the first day of the virtual African Union summit, the focus was on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuring the supply of vaccines to the continent. But time was made to reelect the former prime minister of Chad Moussa Faki Mahamat as the head of the AU Commission while welcoming this year's new chairperson.
“Deeply humbled by the overwhelming and historic vote of confidence,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat on Twitter. He was re-elected to a second four-year term at the head of the African Union Commission, the executive organ and key institution of the pan-African organisation, on 6 February by 51 out of 55 Member States.
He also congratulated Monique Nsanzabaganwa, vice-governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, who was elected deputy chairperson of the Commission.
Former prime minister of Chad Faki Mahamat, who ran unopposed, faced accusations – which he denies – of “a culture of sexual harassment, corruption and intimidation within the commission”, according to a recent briefing from the International Crisis Group (ICG).
Some states had also expressed concern about the difficulties in ensuring secrecy with remote voting.
Held online this year due to health crisis, this summit took place exactly one year after Egypt recorded its first Covid-19 case. At the time, the arrival of the pandemic on the continent had raised fears that Africa’s weak health systems would not be able to cope. However, this apocalyptic scenario did not materialise.
Africa remains relatively unscathed for the time being, with 3.5% of cases and 4% of deaths officially recorded worldwide, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
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However, many countries are currently facing a worrying second wave and are having difficulty obtaining vaccines. Even at a rate of two doses per person, Africa will need 1.5 billion doses to vaccinate 60% of its approximately 1.3b inhabitants.
“This disease has caused great suffering and hardship across our continent,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa – the outgoing African Union (AU) chairman – in his opening speech, stressing that the health emergency was coupled with a “grave economic and social crisis.”
African leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated with the unrestrained global race for vaccines, one in which they are forced to run with a serious handicap.
In a recent interview, Faki Mahamat denounced “vaccine nationalism” and the “rich countries jumping the queue, some even pre-ordering more than they require.”
“Away from meeting rooms”
The closed-door discussions began with a presentation by Ramaphosa on current African efforts to deal with the pandemic. In his speech he also called on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to release new resources that “will correct the glaring inequality in fiscal stimulus between advanced economies and the rest of the world.”
Felix Tshisekedi, his successor as the organisation’s annual rotating chairman and his counterpart in the DRC, pledged to make the AU more relevant by taking it “away from meeting rooms.”
President Tshisekedi outlined an ambitious programme that addresses climate change, sexual violence, the promotion of the African Continental Free Trade Area (Zlecaf), and the mega-project of the Inga hydroelectric dam in his country.
Another important internal AU appointment is that of Nigerian Ambassador Bankole Adeoye who has been elected head of a department that brings together Political Affairs and the Peace and Security Department. Alongside Faki Mahamat, he is expected to play a crucial role in trying to resolve the many African crises that the AU is accused of neglecting.
The Peace and Security Council has, for example, barely addressed the conflict between the Cameroonian government and English-speaking separatists, or the worrying rise of radical Islamists in northern Mozambique.
One of the most sensitive issues is the crisis in Tigray, Ethiopia, where the AU headquarters is based, which has been rocking the country for the past three months.
As soon as the fighting broke out in early November, Faki Mahamat had called for an end to all hostilities between the Addis Ababa government and the dissident authorities in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia. However, Ethiopian Prime Minister and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed has refused any AU mediation in an attempt “to maintain order” under national sovereignty.
The summit also coincides with the announcement of a new US diplomatic policy by President Joe Biden, who wants to renew ties with multilateral institutions, including the AU.