Addis Ababa — The Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) have elected President Felix- Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as the new Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2021.
According to a release from Addis Ababa, the event took place on Saturday during the ongoing 34th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union, holding virtually under the theme: "Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want".
The President of the DRC is taking over the baton of command from President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa of South Africa following the end of his tenure as the Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2020.
The release furthered that given the prevailing context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the handing over ceremony between the incoming and outgoing chairs of the African Union was organized in a hybrid mode, both at the conference center of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the newly elected Chair of the Union, President Tshisekedi took part physically, in the solemn handing over ceremony at the podium of the AU Mandela Hall, in the presence of Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), while the outgoing Chair Ramaphosa, participated virtually all the way from South Africa.
On behalf of the outgoing President of the Union, the symbols of the Union were presented physically to the incoming Chair by the AUC Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, while the flag of the African Union was handed over virtually by the South African President, H.E Cyril Ramaphosa
While the official theme of the year 2021 is "Arts, Culture, and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want," the release noted that the focus of the AU will also be on addressing the devastating impact of the COVID19 pandemic on the continent, which has disproportionately affected the lives and livelihoods of the African people.
In his acceptance speech, President Tshisekedi said it is a unique privilege for the Democratic Republic of the Congo to be given this opportunity as Chair of the African Union at a symbolic and highly significant moment when "we are celebrating the sixty years of the disappearance of a worthy son of the Congo and Africa, Mr. Patrice Émery Lumumba, who strongly believed in the great destiny of Africa.
"He did not hesitate to organize, in August 1960 in Kinshasa, then Leopoldville, the last Congress in the history of the great movement of Pan-Africanism. On June 30, 1960, shortly before his tragic death, he declared 'Africa will write its own history and it will be in the north and south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity'."
The incoming Chair of the Union commended President Cyril Ramaphosa, who, in difficult conditions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was able to mobilize the efforts of all the countries of the continent and partners to face this challenging moment, the release noted.
He also thanked Her Excellency Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and His Excellency Mr. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister, for the warm welcome that the Ethiopian people have never ceased to give AU Member States "during our meetings at the headquarters of the organization", before expressing his sincere thanks to Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission for welcoming him "in this magnificent setting of the headquarters of our continental organization".
Highlighting the theme of the year 2021, the new AU Chairperson Tshisekedi said, Arts, Culture and Heritage constitute the foundation of the African renaissance and offers the opportunity for Africans to return to our roots. "Culture is indeed, as Léopold Sédar Senghor said, at the beginning and at the end of everything, because it embraces all areas of life.
In his handing over speech, President Ramaphosa wished the new AU Chairperson, a successful Chairmanship and thanked the Heads of States of AU Member States as well as the AU outgoing bureau, for their support during the tenure of his mandate which he said, was marked by the prevailing sanitary crisis caused by the COVID19 pandemic.
President Ramaphosa highlighted some of the achievements under his chairmanship of the Union notably, the efforts to reduce conflict in the continent under the theme of silencing the guns; the economic empowerment of the women and youths, the enhancement of democracy and good governance, among other development programs under Agenda 2063.
The outgoing Chair of the Union further underlined the initiatives undertaken under his leadership to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include: the establishment of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus (AFTCOR); the Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing in Africa (PACT); the Consortium for COVID-19 Clinical Vaccine Trials (CONCVACT); the appointment of Special Envoys to mobilize the international support for the continental fight against COVID-19; the establishment of the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP): a platform developed to assist the AU Member States to tackle issues on the supply side of continent's response to COVID-19 and access to medical supplies and equipment; the development of the vaccine strategy for the continent which was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Assembly; the establishment of the COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), in support of Africa vaccine strategy with the objective that no country and no one should be left behind; and the initiative to engage international partners and financial institutions to support countries whose economies have been devastated by the pandemic.