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AU Summit focuses on reforms, free trade area

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 29 Jan – President Uhuru Kenyatta on Sunday, joined fellow leaders at a summit of the African Union (AU) Assembly, dominated by reforms and moves towards a free trade area.

The formal opening ceremonies of the two-day summit, the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly at the AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, was preceded by hours of closed-door talks centred on AU reforms.

The reform measures, crafted by a panel led by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, are around enhanced financial contributions as well as ensuring greater efficiency at the AU Commission in Ethiopia. Kenya is broadly supportive of the reforms.

“Kenya strongly supports the Reforms at the African Union, as that is the surest way to ensure the Union, its Commission, Organs and Agencies are fit for purpose and well equipped to deliver on the ambitious aspirations of the African People as spelt out in Agenda 2063,” President Kenyatta said.

“As we implement institutional reforms in our Union, it is critically important that we carry everyone along. The processes through which we make important decisions, to drive the reforms, have to be consultative and they should enable us to build the broadest possible consensus on the reform package. Where genuine concerns are raised by Member States, it is important that these are addressed expeditiously and comprehensively,” the President added.

The closed session also endorsed progress on a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTC). Kenya is among the leading campaigners for free movement of people and goods in Africa.

“I am, therefore, encouraged to note that more than 20 countries, including my own, are currently implementing the 0.2% levy on eligible imports as reported. Equally encouraging is the fact that the Commission and the Reform Implementation Unit have customized flexible financial options in recognition of individual country circumstances. I would urge all other member states to make every effort to ensure the financial independence of our Union,” President Kenyatta said.

Speaking before handing over to President Kagame, outgoing chairperson of the AU Assembly, Guinea’s President Alpha Condé, emphasized the need to consolidate the Continental Free Trade Area to promote intra-Africa trade.

President Condé also expressed the need for Africa to address its chronic budget deficit.

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“We cannot continue to depend on financial aid for our programmes. It is important for Africa to take its destine in its hands and fund its transformation agenda,” President Condé said.

African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called on African countries to work together and support peace initiatives in South Sudan, Somalia and other countries in the continent experiencing turmoil.

Mr Faki emphasized the need for a speedy implementation of AU reforms to enable the continental organization to effectively fulfill its mandate.

“Africa must work together to entrench integration and guarantee speedy reforms of the African Union,” Mr Faki said.

A report on governance issues was due to be presented at the summit. It will show what Africans can do to improve their governance and democracy institutions.

Kenya’s First Lady Margaret together with 15 other African First Ladies who are in Addis Ababa to attend the 20th General Assembly of Organization of African First Ladies Against Aids (OAFLA) also attend the opening ceremony of the AU Heads of State and Government summit.

Leaders also spoke against terrorism and signaled the urgency to combat the menace that has become a major threat to peace, security and development. They assured that peace and stability will continue to be given priority in the continent.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was working on strengthening the partnership between AU and UN, especially in peace and security in Africa.

In South Sudan, Mr Guterres said the UN has aligned its position with the AU and IGAD, saying the partnership is important to building a safer world for all.

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“UN fully supports Africa’s initiatives for peace and reconciliation across the continent. We support is rooted solutions that are Africa-owned, Africa-driven and Africa-led,” Mr Guterres said.

President Kenyatta was due to present a report on Africa’s peer review efforts covering the last two years on Monday.

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