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The African Union Summit has concluded on Friday, January 31, without passing any firm decisions about the major conflicts in South Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR).
If anything, the summit that was characterized by talks of hope and despair concerning the continent’s peace and security status, it is the decision to baptize the Chinese built huge conference in the name of Nelson Mandela that is prominent.
It is rather the regional bloc IGAD, that has made a more prominent decision on one of the conflicts – that of South Sudan.
Hope and Despair
The opening of African leaders’ assembly Thursday morning at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa was marked by series of speeches that conveyed mixed messages of hope and despair over the continent’s peace and security.
While earlier conflict ridden countries like Somalia, Mali and Madagascar seem to have started the path of pacification, albeit at a different pace and with some relapses, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, are in a worrying state. Hence; the talks hope and despair by various leaders who spoke at the opening of the 22nd AU Summit on January 30, in the Ethiopian capital.
The United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, for example sounded upbeat about Africa’s peace security status. Eliasson stated that though the continent still faces security challenges, places as desperate as Somalia, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are improving.
He in particular mentioned his visit to Mogadishu, Somalia after more than 20 years of hiatus where he said he saw the country at a promising cross-roads after passing through protracted warfare.
“Peace, development and human rights are inextricably linked, and conflict shattered countries can take more than a quarter of a century to rehabilitate,” warned Eliasson stating that the United Nations aims to deepen its partnership with the AU in this regard.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who is the outgoing chair of the AU, on his part reiterated that the continent’s peace and security is improving while at the same time expressing concern by the emergence of new conflicts in CAR and South Sudan.
“If these conflicts are not addressed urgently, it can have the potential to seriously threaten our collective peace and security and undermine the gains that we have made in recent years,” he said.
On the contrary, he mentioned the recent elections in Madagascar, where a civilian was peacefully elected, and the upcoming elections in the often unstable West African republic of Guinea Bissau slated for March, as two examples where peace and reconciliation can be achieved.
While urgently telling the participants at the gathering that conflicts cannot ultimately be solved with the barrel of gun, Hailemariam said a culture of compromise and leadership is needed together with help from the UN, the AU and other multilateral organizations.
Not all the speeches were generalized platitudes, as the Ethiopian Prime Minister also announced that a donor’s conference has been slated for the African-led Peace Support Mission in Central African Republic (MISCA). The pledging conference will be held on Saturday, February 1, in Addis Ababa, where a number of the heads of state at the summit are expected to attend to testify for AU’s drive of an African solution to African problems.
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission, challenged the participants to abide by the goals set at the 50th Anniversary of the AU|OAU to silence their guns in just six years, (meaning by2020).
“If I have to single out one issue that made peace happen, it was our commitment to invest in our people, especially the empowerment of young people and women,” stated Zuma.
Release more, South Sudan
A Summit of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Heads of State on the situation in South Sudan held on Friday has urged Juba to release the four remaining detainees held in connection to the unrest that erupted in mid-December.
According to an IGAD communiqué dispatched after the summit held on the sidelines of the 22nd AU Summit the leaders appreciated the fact that the government of South Sudan released a number of detainees but then asked for the release of all detainees.
IGAD “Commends the Government of the Republic of South Sudan for releasing seven of the detainees on bail, and calls on the Government to expedite the legal process of the remaining detainees considering their role in an inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation,” the communiqué reads.
The newest nation on earth was plunged into a near total civil war last December, after the government of Salva Kirr had a fall out with forces loyal to his ex-vice president Riek Machar, who was sacked in July 2013.
The civil strife was only put on a relative hold after a month, with the signing of agreements on the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH ) signed on January 24 in Addis Ababa.
The agreement, among other things, had included provisions for standing down forces, protection of civilians, opening up humanitarian access, cessation of propaganda through media, and the formation of monitoring and verification mechanisms.
Uhuru Kenyata, the President of neighbouring Kenya, said at the summit that while this week saw the release of seven detainees by the government, four more detainees are yet to be set free.
The communiqué also mentioned the need for the progressive withdrawal of armed groups and all allied forces invited by either side from the theatre of operations as per the CoH agreement.
Another of South Sudan’s neighbors, Uganda, had previously publicly acknowledged its participation in the month long bitter civil strife, allying with the government and reportedly helping in the recapture of the city of Bor from rebel forces.
According to the communiqué the Second Phase of the negotiations are slated to start on February 7 in Addis Ababa, as agreed and declared by the parties and the mediators during signing of the CoH.
Baptizing the “Chinese Hall”
The 22nd AU Summit was opened by naming the huge, Chinese built hall after the late South African President and global icon, Nelson Mandela, and welcoming two newly elected presidents of Mali and Madagascar who attended for the first time.
Also at the opening of the two-day summit, the new chairperson of the AU, Mauritania’s President, also took over the yearly rotating post, from Ethiopia’s Hailemariam.
It was following the welcoming, under Hailemariam’s patronage, of the two new leaders to the club that a representative of Algeria’s President, Abdulaziz Bouteflika, proposed naming the huge venue “Mandela Plenary Hall” which was endorsed by the leaders without any further discussion.
The AU has inaugurated its new 21-storey headquarters, the tallest in Ethiopia, constructed with USD200 million , at its earlier Summit in January 2012.
South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, expressed gratitude to the AU and African leaders for making the move “to immortalize Mandela”.
Dlamini-Zuma, then spoke about the Agenda 2063, Africa’s vision for the next half a century that was finalized at the first ever retreat of African foreign ministers held in the northern Ethiopia town of Bahirdar from the 24 to 26 January.
UN Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, newly elected President of the Madagascar Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana, Prime Minister of the Republic of Haiti Laurent Salvador Lamothe, also spoke at the opening of the Summit.
The Launch of “2014 Year of Agriculture and Food Security, Marking 10th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)” was also a highlight of the summit.
(Omer Redi is a Resident Correspondent for Spanish News Agency (EFE) as well as Founder and Managing Director of Ifriqiyah Media and Communications. He can be reached through [email protected] or [email protected])