A rousing call for pan-African unity, solidarity and equality rang throughout the 27th African Union (AU) summit, which took place in the Rwandan capital Kigali on July 10-18, 2016, and echoed the shared ambitions of its 54 member states to work together for greater trade, interaction and long-term prosperity in Africa.
In her opening speech at the summit, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, encouraged African countries to eschew having a blinkered focus on their own, individual self-interests and instead consider what would be beneficial for the continent as a whole. Such shortsighted tendencies, she believes, have held Africa back from advancing its progress in the past.
“One of the reasons for the slow movement on some of these issues like the single African Aviation Market among others is our focus on national interests to the detriment of the continental interests. As a result, we have lost over 40% market share and member states have open sky agreements with more non-African countries than they do with African countries,” she said.
Dr Dlamini Zuma affirmed that realizing the continent’s long-term goals and aspirations calls for each nation to show solidarity and support for each other’s initiatives, which is the essence of the AU’s Agenda 2063 initiative.
Tagged as “a global strategy to optimize the use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans,” the Agenda 2063 program aims for unity, prosperity and peace throughout the continent over the next half century by learning from lessons of its past, building on the progress it now has under way, and strategically exploiting all possible opportunities available to it. The AU refers to the plan as being effectively “a call for action to all segments of African society to work together to build a prosperous and united Africa based on shared values and a common destiny.”
Toward the end of the AU summit, Idriss Deby Itno, Chairperson of the African Union and President of the Republic of Chad, called on African nations to make concerted efforts to implement Agenda 2063, as well as sharpen their focus on improving gender equality. “Our commitment to developing the continent and making it independent must continue,” he said. “As we go forward, we should learn from one another and accelerate efforts to promote gender equality at all levels. We can all learn from success stories, such as that of Rwanda our host, to build on the progress that we have achieved in addressing issues of major concern to the women of Africa.”
African Year of Human Rights
The African Union has declared 2016 as the African Year of Human Rights, with a particular focus on women’s rights. During the summit, Rwanda, Algeria, South Africa and Tunisia were each lauded for their outstanding efforts in the promotion of women rights and gender equality.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda also called for full and effective participation and representation of women in peace processes including the prevention, resolution, management of conflicts and post-conflict reconstruction.
“We cannot run away from our responsibilities, we have to fulfill them the best way we can,” he said. “We as leaders are obliged to work together, as foot soldiers, to reinforce mechanisms that will protect women at the national level and end impunity of crimes committed against women in a manner that will benefit the African society.”
Dr Dlamini Zuma commended President Kagame for placing women at the center of his country’s national development. “We used to hear people saying that behind any successful man, there is a woman. But in Rwanda we can now say women and men stand side by side to achieve success.” She also expressed her gratitude to the Rwandan government and people for providing attendees with such a warm welcome and well-organized event.
The 27th African Union summit is the first such AU event Kigali has hosted and it gave the city the opportunity of showcasing its latest source of civic pride: its new national convention center. The official opening of the Kigali Convention Centre, which coincided with Rwanda’s Liberation Day, on July 8, 2016, by President Kagame is the culmination of concerted efforts by the government to expedite its completion in time for the event. Having overcome setbacks, such as problematic contractor issues, over the years, the President attributed its final completion as being “true to the Rwandan spirit” of never giving up.
The ultra-modern complex includes a main auditorium, conference facilities, an industrial research and development park, and the new Radisson Blu Hotel Kigali. In his inaugural speech, the President thanked the African Union, and specifically Dr Dlamini Zuma, for giving Rwanda the opportunity to host the summit. The success of such an important event now puts Kigali in a good position to market itself as Africa’s next top destination for future high profile global conferences.
AU E-Passports Launched
A symbolic reflection of the summit’s themes of pan-African unity and cooperation was evident in its opening ceremony with the launch of the new African Union e-passport. AU Chair and Chad President Mr Deby Itno and Rwanda’s President Kagame were the first people to receive the new passports from AU Commission Chair Dr Dlamini Zuma.
In an official statement released in June 2016, the AU said that the e-passport “falls squarely within the framework of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and has the specific aim of facilitating free movement of persons, goods and services around the continent.”
“Africa is rising,” commented Mr Kagame. “Africa is being raised actively by us, the people of this continent. Our job is simply to raise Africa even higher.”