South Africa hands over chairmanship of African Union to DRC

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi
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CAPE TOWN – South Africa will hand over the chairmanship of the African Union (AU) at the virtual 34th ordinary session of the assembly of heads of state and government on Saturday and Sunday.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa will, as outgoing chairperson, will officially relinquish the chairmanship of the AU to his successor, President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, during the opening session of the assembly on Saturday, the presidency said in a statement.

The AU theme for 2021 would be “Arts, Culture, and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want”.

During South Africa’s tenure as chair, the AU achieved key priorities as outlined in its programme for 2020. This included the historic advent – on January 1, 2021 – of free trade within the African Continental Free Trade Area, the presidency said.

Likewise, the 14th extraordinary summit on “silencing the guns” reviewed the progress made in the implementation of the Agenda 2063 flagship programme on “silencing the guns” by 2020.

The convening of the second mid-year coordination meeting between the AU, regional economic communities (RECs), regional mechanisms (RMs), and member states in October 2020 was critical in building on the progress made thus far regarding the streamlining of the agendas and priorities between the AU, RECs, RMs, and member states of the AU.

Under Ramaphosa’s leadership and “resolute support” of the bureau of the heads of state and government of the AU and the AU secretariat, various initiatives were undertaken to counter the Covid-19 pandemic, injcluding

– The establishment of the AU Covid-19 response fund;

– The establishment of the Africa task force for coronavirus (AFTCOR);

– The partnership to accelerate Covid-19 testing in Africa (PACT);

– The consortium for Covid-19 clinical vaccine trials (CONCVACT);

– The appointment of special envoys to mobilise international support for the continental fight against Covid-19;

– The establishment of the African medical supplies platform (AMSP): a platform developed to assist the AU member states to tackle issues on the supply side of the continent’s response to Covid-19 and access to medical supplies and equipment;

– The initiative of the chairperson to engage international partners and financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, European Union (EU), G20 member states and others to support the issue of debt relief for African countries whose economies had been devastated by the pandemic;

– The development of the vaccine strategy for the continent which was endorsed by the AU bureau of assembly on August 20, 2020; and

– Ramaphosa’s establishment of the Covid-19 African vaccine acquisition task team (AVATT) in support of the Africa vaccine strategy. The task team was mandated to secure the necessary resources for achieving Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine strategy which aimed to vaccinate a minimum of 60 percent of Africa’s population and to accelerate the arrangements of financing for the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines for the continent.

During the 34th ordinary session, the assembly was expected to consider some of the continent’s pertinent issues related to the selection of the senior leadership of the AU Commission, the presidency said.

“In this regard, the following positions will become vacant in February 2021, namely the chairperson of the AU Commission (AUC), deputy chairperson of the commission, and six commissioners of the AUC.”

For its part, South Africa had submitted two candidates – ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo and Dr Molapo Qhobela – for the positions of AU commissioner for political affairs, peace and security; and education, science, technology and innovation, respectively.

“The 34th ordinary session of the assembly is also expected to consider and adopt, among others, the report of the 38th ordinary session of the executive council; a report on the institutional reform process of the AU; a progress report on the AU’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in line with the continental strategy on Covid-19, as well as the outcomes of the 2nd mid-year coordination meeting.”

The South African delegation to the summit would be led by Ramaphosa, who would be joined by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, Trade, Industry, and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel, State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nkosinathi Mthethwa, the presidency said.