By: EUGENE KWIBUKA of The New Times of Rwanda :
Heads of State and Government across Africa meeting in Kigali, yesterday, started the 27th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Assembly with a focus on how to make the continent more peaceful, unified, and self-reliant.
At the centre of the agenda for the two-day meeting, the leaders were to discuss and make decisions on how to make Africa more financially self reliant as well as how to address urgent threats to peace and security on the continent.
The discussion on financial independence follow Saturday’s retreat of Heads of State and Government on Financing the African Union during which a major financing model for the Union, that is set to enable African countries to fully fund the AU’s activities, was presented.
The 27th summit is also set to elect the new chairperson of the AU Commission to replace Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, President Paul Kagame reiterated the critical role of unity for building a successful continent, saying it is at the centre of delivering real results in the lives of Africans.
“Whenever we gather on the basis of what unites us, there is a peaceful solution to every problem. Unity is not a feel-good slogan. It is a tool for delivering real results in the lives of Africans,” he said.
The President added that, in an increasingly divided world, Africa has a lot to offer by upholding the principle of unity.
“The unity of our continent, with an emphasis on integration, among other things, should never be subject to preconditions or exceptions, because lasting solutions always involve everyone,” Kagame said.
To fast-track integration across the continent, the AU Commission yesterday launched a continental passport, which member countries will start issuing to their citizens so they can travel across the continent without having to first apply for visas.
Inaugurated at the opening session of the AU’s Heads of State and Government Summit, the continental passport was first issued to the Chairperson of the African Union, Chadian President Idriss Itno Deby, and President Kagame by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Union Commission.
“It is with great honour that we report back on a task given to us to ensure free movement of people across Africa,” Dlamini-Zuma said as she delivered the passport to the two leaders.
President Kagame had earlier in his opening speech for the session set the mood for the issuance of the African passport highlighting the similarities among citizens of African nations.
“We believe that a Rwandan is just an African from a particular place. The tissue of brotherhood and sisterhood cannot be amputated by lines drawn on a map in another century,” Kagame said.
Kagame also shared the importance of rejecting failure and his optimism for the future of Africa.
“If Africa’s challenges are treated as routine, it means we’ve accepted to be held back by them forever. We reject that. Africa is rising, but not as a result of impersonal forces over which we have no control. Africa is being raised, actively, by us, the people of this continent. Our job is simply to raise Africa even higher,” he said.
Very critical at the Heads of State Summit is also the approval of a major financing model for the Union that is set to enable African countries fully fund the AU’s activities and do away with relying too much on foreign donors.
According to Finance and Economic Planning minister Claver Gatete, AU Heads of State and Government have agreed on collecting a 0.2 per cent tax levy on all eligible imports in every member country of the AU and directly send the money to the Union’s coffers.
‘Unprecedented bold step’
Welcoming the new funding model of the AU and urging other Heads of State and Government to embrace it, President Deby said that the continent has taken an unprecedented bold step to be self-reliant.
“For the first time, since even the creation of the Organisation of African Unity, the continent has resolved to take its destiny in its own hands,” he said.
President Kagame agreed, explaining that Africans should be the ones to pay for activities they have a stake in.
“This puts responsibility and ownership in our hands. We are capable of it, and we were shown how to do so, and I urge us to move forward with the required political will, without delay,” he said.
Dlamini-Zuma lauded the Heads of State for approving the new financing model during their retreat on Saturday at the ongoing AU summit, saying they “took an unprecedented leap forward for Africa’s self-reliance.”
As for the urgent threats to peace and security on the continent, the Heads of State summit is mainly tackling the issue of insecurity in South Sudan pitting rival forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar.
Both Dlamini-Zuma and President Deby said the AU will work closely with Heads of State and Government in eight member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa to address the security crisis in South Sudan.
They also urged warring parties to make peace as they had promised the international community when they recently co-founded a transitional government of national unity.
The first day of the Heads of State and Government Summit ended with a State Banquet hosted by President Kagame during which he called on all leaders to join forces to change the course of Africa’s history.
“For centuries, the minds of Africans were warped into the most effective instruments of our own oppression. But for us today, history is no excuse for refusing to see all that is good about Africa and ourselves,” he said.
“Let’s raise Africa by affirming what has been done, and using every success to set our sights even higher. This is the dignity that we have struggled to reclaim as Africans,” Kagame added, concluding with a warm welcome to all leaders to feel at home in Kigali.
Resolutions from the 27th Summit will be announced at the closure today.