Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 30 January 2017 – (ECA) – The 28th African Union Summit opened in Ethiopia Monday with United Nations Secretary, General Antonio Guterres, commending the ‘extraordinary’ unity and leadership showed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in defending democracy in The Gambia by peacefully ousting former President Yahya Jammeh after weeks of political stalemate.
In his maiden address to the AU Summit as UN Secretary General, Mr. Guterres said the unity in ECOWAS and the restraint of the people of The Gambia in the face of possible conflict was commendable.
“The extraordinary union showed by ECOWAS is even a lesson to the world,” he said, echoing statements earlier by outgoing AU Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma also applauding ECOWAS ‘for making Africa proud’.
“When we see so many conflicts multiplying, the only way to allow the international community to be able to address those conflicts, the only way to allow the international community to act boldly, is with unity of the countries of the region, able to serve together and in the same universal principles,” he said to applause from the Heads of State and Government attending the summit.
“Our world needs to move from managing crises to preventing them in the first place. Too often the world responds too late and too little. I look forward to exploring with you how to break that cycle.”
Mr. Jammeh departed Gambia peacefully following ECOWAS’ intervention after he had refused to hand over power to President Adama Barrow who beat him in elections held in December.
Mr. Guterres, who told African Union leaders that he was attending their summit ‘to listen, learn and work with you for the people of Africa and the wider world’, outlined several areas where the UN and Africa could work together to improve the lives of the ordinary people.
This includes raising the level of the two organisation’s strategic partnership in implementing Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda, and in promoting peace and security and human rights on the continent.
“We look forward to working with you to enhance the UN’s partnership with Africa’s eight Regional Economic Communities,” he said. “They have been at the forefront of efforts to achieve peace and security on the continent and they are driving forces for achieving Africa’s development aims.”
“The United Nations will step up its support to further promote good governance and reinforce the nexus between peace, security and development,” Mr. Guterres said, adding the UN will support African efforts to realize its initiative to “Silence the Guns by 2020”, or even before, including by strengthening support for the African Peace and Security Architecture.
“It is also very important that we are able to promote long-term thinking and commitment to building and maintaining peace after conflict ends to prevent backsliding,” said Mr. Guterres, adding the UN will support regional integration, including efforts to establish the Continental Free Trade Area as the continent continues in its effort to push for the structural transformation of its economy.
The Secretary General pledged his ‘full commitment to work with you in solidarity and respect to advance peace and security on the continent and realize the vision of Agenda 2063 and its promise of building “the Africa we want”.
He said he intended to work with the AU to present a set of concrete proposals to the Security Council on predictable, reliable and sustainable financing for AU peace operations.
For her part, Ms. Dlamini-Zuma led the assembled leaders in honouring ECOWAS for ensuring a peaceful transition in the Gambia. Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf received a present on behalf of ECOWAS from the AU.
“You made us proud as you stood by the people of The Gambia and defended the values of our Union,” said Dlamini-Zuma. “Our thank you to all those who participated and remained steadfast. We are particularly proud that it was under your stewardship as our first elected female President. You are a pioneer and inspiration to all women and men.”
Speaking to the Summit’s theme; ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend, through Investment in African Youth, Dlamini-Zuma said Africa has 200 million young men and women ages 15 to 24 years and by 2025, a quarter of the world’s youth under 25 will be African.
“As the rest of the world ages, Africa will remain a young continent. This is the comparative advantage we have, which must be translated into a demographic dividend,” she said as she urged African leaders to facilitate the full participation of the youth in politics and their economies to secure the continent’s future.
The AU will this year appoint a Special AU Envoy for Youth to mobilise and advocate for the youth, during this year of harnessing the demographic dividend.
She said 2017 had started with a lot of challenges that need to be addressed.
“It is clear that globally we are entering turbulent times. For example, the very country to whom our people were taken as slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, have now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries. What do we do about this? Indeed, this is one of the greatest challenges and tests to our unity and solidarity,” Dlamini-Zuma said.
The leader of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas and the Cuban Deputy President Salvador Valdes Mesa were some of the invited guests attending the AU Summit. (ECA)