President outlines pillars of South Africa’s AU chairship

Economic integration, women’s empowerment and good governance are the three main priorities for South Africa as it prepares to assume chairship of the African Union (AU) this year.

President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted the priorities at the African Heads of Mission Conference, taking place at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s offices, in Pretoria, on Tuesday.

On 8 and 9 February 2020, Heads of State and Government will convene in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the 33rd Ordinary Session of the AU assembly where South Africa will assume chairship.

South Africa previously held the AU Chairship in 2002, at the seminal session that officially launched the African Union.

“At the top of our agenda as Chair must be the deepening of economic integration. This is a historic moment that we must seize.

“Together with our fellow African countries, we must implement the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement with purpose and determination,” said the President.

The AfCFTA brings together all 55 member states of the AU covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people and aims to accelerate intra-African trade and boost Africa’s trading position in the global market.

But for the AfCFTA to bear fruit, President Ramaphosa said infrastructure between African countries must be developed.

“We know that the AfCFTA will only become a reality if the infrastructure between African countries is developed. Infrastructure is at the core of Africa’s social, economic and political challenges.

“It is crucial for sustainable development and inclusive growth, and for diversification through industrialisation and value addition,” said the President.

As the Champion of the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative under NEPAD, President Ramaphosa called on South Africa to act on the opportunity presented – in profiling infrastructure development in support of the AfCFTA.

Advancing women’s empowerment on the continent

Another pillar of South Africa’s agenda as AU chair is the empowerment of women, with a specific emphasis on promoting financial and economic inclusion and combating gender-based violence.

“On women’s financial and economic inclusion, South Africa will work with the AU’s Women, Gender and Development Directorate, which is responsible for leading, guiding, defending and coordinating the AU’s efforts on gender equality and development,” the President said.

To achieve this, the President said South Africa will work closely with the AU Leader on Gender and Development, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana. 

Akufo-Addo launched the Gender and Development Initiative for Africa in 2017 as his flagship programme. 

The United Nation’s 2009 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development notes that women’s equal access to financial and economic resources is critical for the achievement of gender equality and sustainable economic growth and development.

“In undertaking this work, we must look beyond ‘micro-finance solutions’ to financing that which will grow the businesses of women.

“The goal is to ensure that women and women-led businesses have access to and are able to use multiple financial services as tools to develop their financial autonomy and allow them to contribute to economic growth,” said the President.

Silencing the guns

As South Africa’s chairship coincides with the end of the AU’s aspiration of ‘Silencing of the Guns in 2020’, South Africa will champion good governance on the continent.

“Specific focus will need to be given to two intractable conflicts on the continent – in Libya and South Sudan – where South Africa is already actively involved in seeking solutions.

“In South Sudan, we are engaged both bilaterally and multilaterally, in particular as Chair of the High-Level ad hoc Committee on South Sudan, known as the C5,” said the President.

South Africa is a member of the AU High-Level Committee on Libya.

“Our efforts will aim at affirming South Africa’s commitment to peace, security and stability on the continent and ending the humanitarian catastrophe and displacement of people in those countries,” said the President. Since the Chairship also coincides with South Africa’s third tenure as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, South Africa will also promote cooperation between the three African members of the UN Security Council and the AU’s Peace and Security Council.