AU baptism of fire: Ramaphosa gets taste of task facing him as AU chair

2020-02-11 11:23
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Linda Longhurst)

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President Cyril Ramaphosa has had a rough start to his first chairing of the African Union, with delays pushing a meeting into the early hours of Tuesday morning.

An official who was in the sitting of the summit told News24 diplomats and heads of state were haggling over the translation of adoptions.

Ramaphosa’s diary saw him needing to meet obligations in South Africa later on Tuesday, before finishing up preparations for his State of the Nation Address which he will deliver on Thursday before a joint sitting of Parliament.

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The AU session, which was meant to take place over two days, was plagued by several delays as state leaders and their diplomats were unable to adopt decisions due to disagreements over translations.

It took more than four hours for the 140-page document to be translated into French and Arabic, a diplomat familiar with the process said.

Several African leaders were seen leaving the African Union headquarters before the second day's session concluded.

The two-day gathering, which was meant to end at 21:30 - with Ramaphosa delivering his closing address before facing the media - was called off at 03:00. Ramaphosa was unable to make his closing address or brief the media.

Diplomatic victory

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Ramaphosa, who took over the chairmanship of the AU from Egyptian President Mohamed al-Sisi, scored a significant diplomatic victory on Monday after his chief negotiator Wamkele Mene was elected as the new secretary of the Africa free trade agreement area.

This victory came after Nigeria fielded its own candidate. The deliberation and voting on the secretariat took much of the two-day session.

Ramaphosa will face the mammoth task of tackling conflicts in war-torn Libya and South Sudan.

During the summit, he engaged in talks with South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir to iron out the last details of the negotiations.

The two rival leaders have missed two key deadlines to form a transitional unity government in the past.

The already fragile peace process could be threatened should an agreement fail between the two leaders.

Peace and security commissioner Smaïl Chergui was optimistic that the South Sudanese leaders would reach an agreement before the deadline.

One diplomat from Ghana said this was a learning curve for Ramaphosa, who would eventually learn to take a much "firmer position as the chair".

Read more on:    au  |  cyril ramaphosa
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