30 January 2014
The 22nd Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly got under way in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday with a call by the continent’s leaders for the silencing of the guns and for peace to prevail on the continent.
This as the conflict in the Central African Republic and South Sudan has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, creating a humanitarian crisis in which has been condemned by the United Nations.
“Our hearts are with the people of the Central African Republic and South Sudan as they continue to be victims of this conflict,” said African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
Last week, the AU welcomed the agreement reached by the warring South Sudanese parties on the cessation of hostilities and the status of detainees.
The agreement, aimed at ending weeks of fighting that has left thousands dead and displaced, was reached at the talks in the Ethiopian capital between the South Sudanese government and rebels loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar. The talks were held under the mediation of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and the signing of the pact was witnessed by AU peace and security commissioner Smail Chergui.
Dlamini Zuma told a packed hall, which included heads of state from the 54 AU member countries, former presidents and delegates from the United Nations, that the continental body would continue to mediate in the war-torn countries until a lasting solution was found.
Outgoing African Union chairperson, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, said the emerging conflicts risked escalating into a crisis that could undermine the gains made in recent years.
“It is imperative that the peace process succeeds and all parties demonstrate the necessary political leadership and compromise to achieve peace and durable reconciliation,” Desalegn said.
Desalegn said the situation in Central African Republic (CAR) remained concerning, particularly the senseless violence that has taken a heavy toll on civilians. He called on world leaders to support the African-led Peace Support Mission in the CAR, which has been deployed there to restore peace and security in order for that country to return to constitutional order.
United Nations Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson also weighed in, calling on the AU to “do all it can” to protect civilians in South Sudan.
“The situation in Central African Republic is of concern for all of us,” Eliasson said. “It is the objective of the United Nations to put an end to these atrocities; we need to act without delay.”
Tribute to Mandela
A moment of silence was held at the start of the summit in remembrance of the late Nelson Mandela, who died in December. The plenary hall of the AU’s headquarters, the largest building where AU summits are held, has been named after the former South African statesman.
South African President Jacob Zuma took the floor to thank Africa for the hospitality it had extended to Mandela and his comrades during the struggle for liberation in his country.
Zuma said that while Mandela had carried a South African passport, he had in fact been a citizen of the world and Africa.
“Madiba has left us a legacy that all of us must keep alive,” Zuma said.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was elected as the new chairperson of the African Union, succeeding Desalegn, who has been at the helm for the past year.
Later in the day, the heads of state will launch the year 2014 as the Year of Agriculture and Food Security, marking the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).
They will consider the report of the Peace and Security Council on its activities and the state of peace and security in Africa, including the activities of the Panel of the Wise alongside the renewal of its membership.
The heads of state will also consider the report on the assessment of the African Standby Force and the operationalization of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises, as well as launch the final report of the High Level Panel on Fragile States.
The so-called Agenda 2063 will also be considered, with the final adoption expected at the 23rd AU summit later this year.