Leaders gather ahead of AU assembly

2015-06-13 14:34
President Jacob Zuma  (GCIS)

President Jacob Zuma (GCIS)

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Johannesburg - Heads of state and government leaders from the African Union’s 54 member states have arrived in Johannesburg ahead of the continental body’s assembly on Sunday and Monday.

The dignitaries have been jetting into Waterkloof Air Force base and Lanseria Airport since Friday as formal proceedings kicked off in earnest on Saturday morning following a week of preparatory meetings by ministers and officials.

Four presidents - Macky Sall from Senegal, Robert Mugabe from Zimbabwe, Muhammadu Buhari from Nigeria and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma - were expected to address the media on Saturday morning about infrastructure and women’s empowerment programmes under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).

The high-level AU Peace and Security Council are expected to meet on Saturday evening to discuss conflict on the continent, with Somalia, Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya and South Sudan being hotspots. The Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria also remain on the security agenda.

Growing the AU’s purse

At the same time Zuma is expected to host a fundraising dinner for the AU Foundation, set up in January by AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to help the AU to become self-funding and rely less on donor money.

Zuma on Friday welcomed the heads of state and personally also teed off a fundraising golf day for the same foundation.

He said South Africa fully supported Dlamini-Zuma’s initiative to grow the AU’s purse.

"We have decided to hold the golf challenge every year in South Africa and we appeal to business people across the continent to participate in these activities which will help the AU to create a conducive environment to do business.

“We will also appeal to all countries in the continent to hold at least one fundraising activity that will help grow the coffers of the African Union," Zuma said in a statement on Friday.

A new funding model for the AU is high on this summit’s agenda. At the summit in January a plan was mooted to get richer countries - South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt - to pay more to allow the continental body to become independent of donor funding, currently making up 70% of its budget.

Breaking down trade barriers

The plan is to self-fund all of the AU’s operations, 75% of its programmes and 25% of its peace and security operations.

Another discussion point is the breaking down of trade barriers between African countries, following the signing this week of a free trade zone agreement in Egypt between three regional bodies: the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), encompassing 26 countries in total.

Infrastructure development, beneficiation and a single transport market for Africa will make up part of the trade talks.
Women is the AU’s theme this year, and this topic received a celebrity injection when actress and UN special envoy for refugees, Angelina Jolie-Pitt, and former British foreign secretary William Hague, made up part of a panel discussing sexual war crimes on Thursday.

The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa and the migrant crisis in North Africa will also feature in talks this weekend, although these will be behind closed doors.

AU leaders will also be discussing elections in the continent and formulate a position on Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza’s intention to run for a third term has sparked an attempted coup.

The AU has indicated that it would not recognise the country’s presidential elections, scheduled for later this month, if the atmosphere in the country was not conducive to free and fair elections.

Read more on:    au  |  jacob zuma  |  johannesburg  |  au summit

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