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African Union

Opening of 33rd AU looks to include more women and criticises increase in armed conflicts

Heads of state and delegations enter the main hall for the opening of the 33rd AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 9 February 2020
Heads of state and delegations enter the main hall for the opening of the 33rd AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 9 February 2020 RFI / Anne-Marie Bissada
Text by: Anne-Marie Bissada
4 min

“The Horn of Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad basin area are in war; a real war where soldiers and civilians are dying by the dozens,” said the head of the African Union on Sunday’s opening of the 33rd Summit when underscoring the urgency to follow through on this year’s theme of Silencing the Guns across Africa.

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Moussa Faki Mahamat began his opening speech to a packed room without mincing his words.

“The year that just went by was not a year of much peace nor of harmony in the world. This year is not looking any better,” added Mahamat in a direct and heavy tone.

“We need to be in constant mobilization of all our energies to undo these tough challenges.”

Crisis across the continent

The rise of terrorist groups in numerous regions across Africa and the world is “a cancer that is far from being eradicated,” he added.

Terrorism that has already made its mark across the Sahel, in Mozambique, Tanzania, and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo “where the main victims are women and children.”

For example, in the Sahel, the number of terrorist-attack casualties has leapt five-fold since 2016, according to a report in January by the UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).

Mahamat added that energy spent on fighting has held-back the potential of the African continent internationally.

That point was echoed by the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Abdoul Gheit, a guest invited by outgoing Chair of the AU, Egypt’s President Abdelfattah al-Sisi.

“We share the same aspirations, we face similar challenges, and we know that the process of comprehensive sustainable development cannot be launched in the absence of laying the foundations of security and stability,” added Gheit.

Egypt's President Abdelfattah al Sisi finished his year as Chair of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 9 February 2020
Egypt's President Abdelfattah al Sisi finished his year as Chair of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 9 February 2020 RFI / Anne-Marie Bissada

But despite the international scope of conflicts across the continent, Sisi noted in his final speech as head of the Chair that the answer must be an “African solution to African problems.”

Extraordinary Summit

In his first speech as this year’s head of the AU, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa announced an extraordinary summit to be held in May on Silencing the Guns.

Normally the AU holds two summits per year: January and July.

This extraordinary one will be hosted by South Africa in Pretoria.

Women part of the answer

Ramaphosa also noted that achieving such a goal of peace is not attainable without the help of women.

“They deserve at the very least 50 percent representation in all structures,” he announced to much applause.

President Cyril Ramphosa speaks for the first time as this year's Chair of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 9 February 2020
President Cyril Ramphosa speaks for the first time as this year's Chair of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 9 February 2020 RFI / Anne-Marie Bissada

“We have to find more practical and sustainable ways to empowering the women of our continent so that we move beyond the clichés and the general statements that we pronounce on podiums every time,” stressed Ramaphosa.

He added that such a fight against instabilty cannot be done without the help of women, who must be liberated “from the shackles of patriarchy,” noting that he hopes to see the years of 2020 to 2030 be declared the “Decade of African Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion.”

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