Harare (New Ziana) – The 34th virtual summit of the African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government opened on Saturday with outgoing chairperson, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa commending the robust response by the continental body in the fight against COVID-19 in Africa.
President Emerson Mnangagwa was also among several leaders who attended the opening day of the virtual summit.
In his opening address, the outgoing chair said the meeting came at a time when the continent, and the world was engaged in an unprecedented struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the disease had caused great suffering and hardship across Africa and had not only become a severe health emergency but also a grave economic and social crisis.
President Ramaphosa said the pandemic had deepened global inequality and was also threatening to set back progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
But despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges, President Ramaphosa said Africa had performed beyond expectations in dealing with the disease.
“Despite the upheaval caused by this disease, our response as a continent has been about partnership, resilience, innovation and the sharing of strategies and resources. The people of this continent have shown themselves to be resourceful and agile,” he said.
“Significantly, this pandemic has demonstrated the importance and the value of our continental body, the African Union. It is through the structures of the AU that we have been able to drive a collective response to this crisis, marshalling resources for the benefit of all, and striving to ensure that no country is left behind.
“As we prepare for the massive task of vaccinating our populations against COVID-19, we are looking to the AU and its partners to provide the assistance and support we need.”
President Ramphosa said several other achievements had also been recorded during the COVID-19 impacted 2020.
Chief among the achievements was the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
“We know that COVID-19 is not yet defeated, and that there will be difficult times ahead, but we draw encouragement from the great opportunities that the AfCFTA presents for the growth, development and prosperity of our continent,” he said.
“We also draw encouragement from the progress we have made in bringing peace and stability to parts of the continent that have long been plagued by conflict. We know that there is still a long road to travel to silence the guns in Africa, but we have shown that we are both determined and capable of achieving that goal.”
Meanwhile, President Ramaphosa relinquished his role as chair of the AU to President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The African Union theme for 2021 is “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want.”
During the summit, African leaders are expected to consider some of the continent’s pertinent issues related to the selection of the senior leadership of the African Union Commission.
Positions that will need to be filled include the Chairperson of the AU Commission, deputy-chairperson and six commissioners of the AUC.
The summit is also expected to consider and adopt, among others, the report of 38th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council; a report on the institutional reform process of the AU and a progress report on the AU’s response to COVID-19 pandemic in line with the Continental Strategy on COVID-19, among other items.