Ethiopia — The 26th Ordinary Session of the African Union Heads of States and Government Summit opened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with Robert Mugabe, the outgoing Chairman of the AU, calling for reforms at the United Nations. He lamented the continued dominance of the developed countries over world affairs, as well as the lack of African representation in the UN Security Council.
His landmark address, impregnated with so many lessons to learn, was met with loud cheers throughout his speech. He further dwelt on issues of peace and security, saying despite continuing conflicts in some parts of the continent, "we've 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 also called for the freedom of the people of Western Sahara. He observed that 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, President Mugabe reported that the Heads of State and Government had resolved to begin their summits, as they did, in closed session to discuss topical issues such as peace and security, governance and financing of the African Union.
Also speaking at the opening, the African Union Commission Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma took her turn to call for consideration of proposals for free movement of people in Africa; leaders to place people at the centre of Agenda 2063; advance the human rights of all peoples and put an end to the culture that limits the participation of women and girls. She also called for an end to indifference to the needs of others, and that of the people of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.
She 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", she said, 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's transformation.
Turning to the theme of the summit, "Year of Human Rights with a focus on the Rights of Women", Madam Zuma 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, adding that the African pledge under the agenda is to use its diversity as a force for peace and democracy.
For his part, the United Nations Secretary General, 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 the highest levels of state structures and in peace and security. "The age of exclusion is over," he said, while welcoming the AU proposal to deploy human rights observers to Burundi.
In what would be his last address of Summit as UN Chief, Mr. Ban applauded the efforts of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in bringing peace to the country. He also expressed his impressions with the many health workers who helped selflessly in the Ebola affected countries "while the world was running away."
The Palestinian President, His Excellency Mahmoud Abbas, who was invited as special guest to the Summit, 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," President Abbas said.
The new Chairman of the African Union, Chad's Idriss Deby Itno, in his acceptance speech 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 President 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, President Nouri Abdusahim of Libya and Rapporteur, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.