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The great diversity of Africa is its biggest strength 

Addis Ababa, 30 January 2015

26th African Union Assembly meeting opened with calls for human rights, particularly women’s rights under Agenda 2063, peace, and development.

African Union Commission Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has called for consideration of proposals for free movement of people in Africa, for leaders to place people at the center of Agenda 2063, to advance the human rights of all peoples, to put an end to the culture that limits the participation of women and girls. Dr Dlamini Zuma also called for an end to indifference to the needs of others, and that of the people of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Speaking at the opening session of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa today, the AUC Chairperson also congratulated a group of Zimbabweans who sang a song dedicated to Agenda 2063, and encouraged artists everywhere to embrace the Agenda “as it is our individual and collective aspirations that are captured in it”. The song was introduced to the Heads of State and government, their delegations and other summit delegates at the beginning of the opening ceremony proceedings.

“The great diversity of Africa is its biggest strength and enduring splendour”, said Dr Dlamini Zuma, referring to Africa’s ancient civilisations, the wealth of its minerals, its natural beauty, flora and fauna, and abundant energy reserves, which are necessary for Africa’st ransformation.  However, Dr Dlamini Zuma lamented the paradox between this richness and the fact that “the majority of Africans are poor”.

Urging Africa to resolve this paradox, she said “We have allowed for far too long, the diversity of our lands, soil, workforce, oceans and forests to be taken away as raw materials, thus exporting jobs and supplementary revenue streams, along with the means of our own development”.

Turning to the theme of the summit “Year of Human Rights with a focus on the Rights of Women”’ Dr Dlamini Zuma said Africa must continue to place people and their basic human rights at the center of Agenda 2063. She observed that under Agenda 2063, Africa has refused to be indifferent or silent about the evil of violent extremism, gender based violence, the suffering and misery of people as a result of wars and conflict, before adding that the African pledge under the agenda is to use its diversity as a force for peace and democracy.

Dr Dlamini Zuma said the continent must put an end to the culture that limits the full participation of women and girls in all spheres of society if it is to realise its full potential. “There is progress, but not at the level approved in Agenda 2063”, she observed.

The AUC Chairperson reiterated the need to create jobs and equip young people with the necessary skills required to transform the continent’s transformation. In this vein, she recognised the intergenerational dialogue that took place at the African Union on the side lines of the on-going summit, recalling the desire of the youth that participated to be agents of change in the advocacy for peace. “They want to be educated and skilled, so that they can become the engine and the drivers of our renaissance and transformation”.

On Western Sahara, Dr Dlamini Zuma noted that, since Africa pushed for a referendum 25 years ago, the country now has a whole generation languishing in refugee camps. “We can no longer be indifferent to the position of the people of Western Sahara”, she added.

The Commission Chairperson extended a welcome to newly elected Heads of State, Mr John Magufuli of Tanzania and Mr Roch Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso as well as President  Alassane Outtara of Cote DÍvoire and President Alpha Conde of Guinea who were re-elected. In concluding her remarks, Dr Dlamini Zuma thanked President Robert Mugabe who was Chairperson of the Union in 2015 for his “excellent guidance”.

United Nations Secretary General Mr Ban Ki Moon congratulated the AU for deciding to focus on human rights as its theme for 2016. He said women should be able to fully take part in society, including in the highest levels of state structures and in peace and security. The age of exclusion is over, he announced. Mr Ban Ki Moon welcomed the AU proposal to deploy human rights observers to Burundi.
 
In his last address as UN Chief, he applauded the efforts of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in bringing peace to Somalia. He also said he was impressed by the many health workers who rushed to help in the Ebola affected countries “while the world was running away”, adding his appreciation for the leadership of the AU and its efforts to deploy hundreds of health workers.
Mr Mahmoud Abbas President of the State of Palestine and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Executive Committee acknowledged Africa’s continued support for the liberation of Palestine. “The status quo cannot be accepted any longer and we will continue working to achieve and reach our national rights and to develop our economy”, he said.

In his last speech as Chairperson of the AU, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe lamented the continued dominance of the developed countries over world affairs, as well as the lack of African representation in the UN Security Council. Loud cheers erupted when he called for reform of the United Nations.

Mr Mugabe dwelt on issues of peace and security saying that, despite continuing conflicts in some parts of the continent, “we witnessed some successes and overall, there was political stability”. He complimented the Amani Field Exercises II, saying it means the continent can now deploy the African Standby Force as a tool for conflict prevention and a step towards silencing the guns. He too called for the freedom of the people of Western Sahara. President Mugabe said climate change has become a real threat, saying the current El Nino phenomenon is increasing chances of hunger and disease.

On the organisation of summits, the President reported that the Heads of State and Government had resolved to begin their summits, as they did today, in closed session to discuss topical issues such as peace and security, governance and financing of the African Union.

Before the summit opening ceremony concluded, a new Chairperson to take over from President Mugabe was announced. President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad will be the Chairperson for 2016. In his acceptance speech, he urged the continent to take advantage of its increased profile in the international system and organise itself to defend its interests. He also said there was need to give the AU the means to attain its objectives, saying it is unacceptable that the functioning of the AU is financed by the outside world. He urged the continent to be action oriented in order to change its history. He spoke strongly against terrorism, saying the continent should ensure its own security using its own human resources.

Meanwhile, the full new bureau to serve with Mr Deby was announced as follows: First Vice Chairperson – President Yayi Boni of the Republic of Benin; Second Vice Chair- President Paul Kagame of the Republic of Rwanda; Third Vice Chair –  Mr Ilmed Hamad Ali Homa Second Vice President of Libya; Rapporteur- President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

African Union Commission

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