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Trade themed African Union Summit gets under way in Ethiopia

Thursday February 16, 2023

By Lenin Ndebele
President of Senegal and the AU, Macky Sall. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Coups in West Africa, upcoming elections, external factors such as the war in Ukraine, the strengthening of the promising African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA), and conflict on the continent are part of what will make up the agenda of major side events at the African Union (AU) Summit.

The AU Summit 36th ordinary session will take place between Wednesday and Sunday.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) suggested that African heads of state that will convene in Ethiopia should look into eight key areas.

"The AU should focus on in 2023: Reforming its institutions; nurturing agreements in Ethiopia and Sudan; urging regional cooperation around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam; easing tensions in the Great Lakes and Central Africa; and steering talks to unlock Libya’s stalemated transition," said the ICG.

Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Sudan are suspended from the AU because of the wave of unconstitutional changes of governments. 

The four have so far failed to meet the minimum requirements set out by AU to lift the punitive measures on them.

Senegal's Macky Sall will hand over the chair of the continental body to Azali Assoumani of Comoros.

Sall steps down as armed groups are destabilising large portions of the central Sahel and looking for new places to establish bases; the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's (DCR) conflict has no end in sight in a year the country is due for elections.

The cessation of hostilities achieved in Ethiopia last year is still in its infancy with a lot to be achieved such as the withdrawal of Eritrean forces and restoration of basic services in Tigray. 

The endemic Jihadist problem remains a key priority for Africa and its international partners. In Somalia, Mozambique, the Lake Chad basin, and South Sudan, intercommunal warfare is raging and a fertile ground for Islamic Extremists.

African Continental Free Trade Area 

The AFCFTA is widely seen as a strong impetus for African governments to address infrastructure shortcomings, integrate supply chains, boost manufacturing capacity, and rearrange regulations to do with trade, cross-border initiatives, investment-friendly policies, and capital flow.

The AFCFTA also seeks to strengthen Africa's global positioning in trade considering that it's the world’s top producer of numerous critical mineral commodities.

Last week, AU councils of ministers met in Gaborone, Botswana, to deliberate on how to fully implement the AFCFTA.

President Cyril Ramaphosa in a statement said the AFCTA would be a top priority for the southern African region at the AU Summit.

"South Africa, together with our neighbours in the Southern African Customs Union, will soon finalise our industrial offer on the African Continental Free Trade Area.

"Once fully operationalised, the Continental Free Trade will provide an unprecedented opportunity to deepen African economic integration, grow national economies, and open up new frontiers and markets for South African companies," he said ahead of his departure.

International interest

Stripping Israel's observer status at the AU could also be on the agenda.

Media reports in Algeria claim that the recent visit to South Africa by Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra was part of a plan to lobby for SA's support.

In July 2021, Israel was granted observer status but amid criticism from several Arab and African countries, that formally objected to the decision.

Last year, the AU decided unanimously in early February 2022 to suspend the decision to grant the observer status.

The US, which is competing for dominance in Africa against China and more recently Russia, has its envoy at the AU Summit.

US Department of State Special Envoy for Global Food Security, Cary Fowler, will join assistant secretary for Africa Molly Phee, the special presidential representative for US-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation ambassador Johnnie Carson, and USAID assistant administrator in the Bureau for Africa, Monde Muyangwa.

Acting USAID assistant to the administrator for the Bureau of Resilience and Food Security, Dina  Esposito, and US global AIDS coordinator and special representative for health diplomacy, John Nkengasong, will also be at the summit.

The US delegation said it would meet with stakeholders to discuss the global food security crisis, and its disproportionate impact on Africa, as well as to follow up on US commitments made at the US-Africa Leaders Summit.

"The US delegation will reinforce US commitment to advance food security and highlight the ongoing work through the US government’s Feed the Future initiative, and efforts to scale up work on climate-resilient agriculture and soil health, including upcoming work on the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS)," read a statement attributed to the óffice of the spokesperson.

The Euboean Union and China will also have envoys at the AU Summit interested in similar targets as the US.


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