, ADDIS ABABA, Jan 27 – Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn took over the post of African Union chairman on Sunday, replacing Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi in the one-year post.
“It is with a great sense of honour and humility that I accept the chairperson of our union,” Hailemariam told leaders at the AU summit meeting.
“I wish to express my heartfelt thanks for the opportunity to serve this half-a-century-old organisation for the next one year.”
Yayi, the outgoing AU chair, hugged Hailemariam and said he will “succeed brilliantly in his mission in pushing us forward in our agenda for unity, peace, stability and development of our continent”.
Hailemariam takes over at the AU just five months after emerging from being a relatively little known politician to run his nation after the death of his mentor Meles Zenawi.
A protege of Meles, Hailemairam has managed an apparently smooth transition with little major change in policy from Meles, who had ruled with an iron fist since toppling dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.
Hailemariam, a former water engineer, has defied critics who feared instabilty in Ethiopia, taking over leadership of his country in a rare peaceful handover of power for the Horn of Africa nation.
Before becoming prime minister, Hailemariam was president of Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region, and was appointed to be deputy prime minister and foreign minister in 2010 after the ruling coalition party’s fourth win, a landslide victory.