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18th AU Summit Kicks off
The 18th African Union summit meetings under the theme “Boosting Intra-African Trade” an agenda that includes a leadership battle officially kicked off on Monday January 23 with ambassadors’ gathering here in Addis Ababa. The meetings during the week primarily focused on discussions that set the groundwork for the summit. Discussions on development reports, cooperation among African countries, an evaluation of the Special Emergency Fund for Drought and Famine in Africa and other issues are the main themes the heads of states will discuss and pass resolution on today, Sunday 29th January meeting.
This year’s summit also witnessed the inauguration of the new AU headquarters which is constructed with finance from the Chinese government.
The meeting that will come to an end on Monday January 30 is also expected to see a fierce battle for the election of members of the AU Commission, namely, the Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and the eight Commissioners that will serve for the next four years.
Today’s meeting is also expected to see a record number attendance of heads of states and governments where 38 confirmed their presence.
In July 2011, the Commission notified member states on the opening of the Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and the eight Commissioners’ positions and the deadline for submissions of candidacies was set for 15 September 2011. For the position of the Chairperson of the AUC the Commission received a new candidate Ms. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma current Interior Minister of South Africa. Dr. Jean Ping from Gabon is also vying for a second mandate. The competition between the two is expected to be fierce. Supporters of Dlamini-Zuma and Ping have been campaigning for their candidacy long before the summit.
With regard to the position of Deputy Chairperson, the Commission received the submission of Mr. Erastus J. O. Mwencha, from Kenya who is currently holding the post, as the only candidate for this position.
The Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson are elected by a secret ballot. The election is scheduled to take place this afternoon (29 January), on the day of the official opening of the AU Summit. It will be preceded by the debate on the theme of the Summit: “Boosting Intra-African Trade.” The election results will be announced on the same day.
For the post of the eight Commissioners [Peace and Security, Political Affairs, Infrastructure and Energy, Social Affairs, Human Resources, Science and Technology, Trade and Industry, Rural Economy and Agriculture, and Economic Affairs] 25 candidates submitted their applications.
For the Peace and Security Commissioner Ethiopia’s Konjit Sinegiorgis is also expected to win in her bid for the post against Ramtane Lamamra who is bidding for a second term. Konjit is one of Ethiopia’s veteran diplomats who has vast knowledge of African affairs. She is currently Ethiopia’s Ambassador to the AU.
The Summit will also feature the election of ten members of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the AU for a term of two years. The AU PSC consists of 15 members, 5 for a term of three years (from Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria) and 10 others for a period of two years. This difference in the duration of terms ensures continuity in the work of the PSC. The candidates for the next election for a term of 2 years each are drawn from the following countries: (North) Egypt; (West) Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Guinea; (East) Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda; (Centre) Congo and Cameroon; (South) Angola and Lesotho.
The AU heads of states will also choose one of their own to the rotating position of African Union chairman. By convention, the one-year post rotates
by region, and this year is West Africa’s turn most probably from Benin or Nigeria. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, President of Equatorial Guinee is the current Chairman of the African Union.
New office complex
The AU officially inaugurated its new Conference Center on January 28. Built on a land of 110,000 square meters offered by the government of Ethiopia was generously built by China within the framework of the cooperation between Africa and China.
The 113 meters high tower offers all facilities of a conference center of international standard and cost about 153 million dollars. The AU will also be able to host big events and comply with the expectation of an expanding international organization.
The official inauguration ceremony was attended by Jia Qinglin, Chairman of National Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Conference; Teodoro Obiang Nguema, President of Equatorial Guinee and current Chairperson of the African Union; Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union Commission the diplomatic corps, representatives of the international community and several personalities attended the event.
During the inauguration keys of the New Conference Center was given to the Chairperson of the AU by Jia Qinglin. Moreover the Kwame Nkrumah monument was inaugurated and a cornerstone of AU memorial for Human Rights was laid.
“Boosting Intra-African Trade”
Africa will be a free trade area in five years, according to the document that African leaders are going to discuss and sign on Monday. The intention is to increase trade within Africa, to have a soft landing ground just in case Africa’s main trading economies of the United States, Europe, China and India slow down, affecting their ability to sustain commodity imports from Africa.
The document states that the debt crisis in Europe and the financial crisis triggered by loan defaults in the US in 2008 intensified the need for Africa to depend on its own market to caution its economy from external shocks.
Intra Africa trade accounts for 12 per cent of total Africa trade, a very small proportion compared to European Union’s 60 per cent trade being internal, according to recently released data by the African Development Bank.
Negotiations are currently going to merge Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East Africa Community and South Africa Development Community into a free trade area.
A report released on Tuesday by the Economist Intelligence Unit said that global institutional investors intend to make their first significant step into Africa over the next five years because of the continent’s growing middle class.
The marginal increase of intra-Africa trade is credited with being one of the factors that saw the continent not become overly affected by the global financial crisis, enabling it to post growth ranging five to six per cent.
Ethiopia announced that everything will go on according to plan and the police have finalized its security preparation. Police confirmed that the event will be peaceful as usual. Last year the Federal Police Commission foiled a terrorist attack allegedly planned and financed by the Eritrean government which was later supported by a UN report.
This year’s summit will host over 38 heads of states and governments including the newly elected Tunisian President, Libyan Prime Minister and Egypt’s Foreign Minister.