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Opening Statement by HE President TM Mbeki, outgoing Chairperson of the African Union, at the 2nd ordinary session of the assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union

Maputo, Mozambique

10 July 2003

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The past year was again a challenging period in our efforts towards the regeneration of our continent. We continued to experience occasional setbacks as we march forward towards a new era in the evolution of our continent.

At the same time, however, there is no doubt that as a continent we have begun to experience a rebirth. We have started a journey of renewal, of reclaiming our glorious past, of using that which is good and best in our collective experience, for our development and for a prosperous future.

Indeed we have declared this, the 21st century, the African century, knowing the challenges that face our continent as it strives to clamber out of the chasm of despair into which it has been cast by the disheartening history of slavery, imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, economic exploitation and marginalisation.

We all agree that the new African world that we seek to build is one of democracy, peace and stability, sustainable development and a better life for all our people.

We articulated this rebirth of our continent during our Extraordinary Summit in Sirte on 9 September 1999, when we discussed ways of amending the OAU Charter to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our Organisation. We will recall that we adopted the Sirte Declaration expressing our wish to establish the African Union in conformity with the ultimate objectives of the OAU Charter and the provisions of the Abuja Treaty.

We also decided to accelerate the process of implementing the Abuja Treaty, in particular regarding the shortening of its implementation periods; the speedy establishment of all the institutions provided for in the Abuja Treaty, such as the African Central Bank, the African Monetary Union, the African Court of Justice and in particular, the Pan-African Parliament; and the strengthening and consolidating the of regional economic communities as the pillars for achieving the objectives of the African Economic Community and realising the envisaged Union.

Since the historic Summit in Sirte, we adopted the Constitutive Act of the African Union during the Lomй Summit on 11 July 2000 to establish the African Union as the successor organisation to the OAU.

As we know, the establishment of the African Union was declared on 2 March 2001 at a second extraordinary Summit in Sirte. This Summit decided that the Lusaka Summit in July 2001 should take the necessary decisions pertaining to the transformation of the OAU into the African Union, and prepare the necessary draft protocols relating to the organs and institutions of the Union.

The transition period from the OAU to the African Union was concluded with the convening of the inaugural Summit of the African Union that took place in Durban from 9 to 10 July 2002.

Again, we will recall that the Durban Summit was able to debate only the few outstanding issues regarding the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly, the Executive Council, the Permanent Representatives Committee, the Statutes of the Commission and the Protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council.

The Durban Summit succeeded to wind down the business of the OAU, this being its last meeting. Subsequently, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government launched the African Union, with some of its key organs in place, during what was the 1st session of the Assembly of the Union.

This Summit gives us the opportunity to critically assess the achievements that have been made since the establishment of the Union and the challenges still facing us. It would be natural and correct to evaluate progress in terms of quantitative results - such as the number of organs of the Union that have been established, or the number of conflict situations on the continent resolved, or the number of NEPAD projects implemented.

At the same time, it would be appropriate to evaluate the development of the Union since its inaugural summit in terms of other important matters of creating a climate, across the continent, of renewed energy, eagerness and enthusiasm to speed up the development of our continent, and commitment to the objectives contained in the Constitutive Act.

During the year under review, we have been engaged in several processes to establish critical institutions that are to serve as vehicles to realise our aspirations in bringing democracy, peace and stability to our people, based on programmes and projects founded on solid principles of democracy, good political and economic governance, social justice, respect for human rights and a culture of tolerance, transparency and accountability, as stipulated in the Constitutive Act.

The earliest possible signing, ratification and entry into force of the Protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council, the Protocol on the African Economic Community establishing the Pan-African Parliament and the Court of Justice, together with the activation of the African Peer Review Mechanism are central to the consolidation of peace, democracy and development and must therefore receive our urgent attention.

The agenda for regional integration and sustainable development must also be advanced through the harmonisation of our economic policies and movement towards the establishment of the relevant financial institutions. In this regard, the PRC and the Executive Council have already done some good work.

Since the Union came into being, it has been seized with efforts to resolve a number of conflicts and cases of instability across the continent, namely in the DRC, Burundi, Sudan, Comoros, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, CAR, Somalia and Cote d'Ivoire.

Clearly, conflict resolution is a top priority for the Union. As a consequence, conflicts that have been raging for many years are being tackled with increased determination and many African countries are committing their own resources to conflict prevention, management and resolution.

In this context, we have also been working with the G8 group of countries to develop a plan for strengthening the capacity of peace support operations at the African Union and in the regions. The G8 countries have made a commitment to support the plan.

We will soon establish the Peace and Security Council as a standing decision-making organ for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. As we are aware, the Council will be a collective security and early-warning arrangement to facilitate timely and efficient responses to conflicts and crisis situations in Africa, supported by the Commission, a Panel of the Wise, a Continental Early Warning System, an African Standby Force and a Special Fund.

In terms of the operationalisation of the Peace and Security Council, we will during this Summit consider the rules of procedure for the Council, as well as other issues, such as the composition of the Panel of the Wise; the membership of the Council; the modalities for the Standby Force and its actual establishment; and funding the activities of the Council.

In Lusaka we confirmed the Regional Economic Communities as the building blocks of the Union, necessitating the need for their close involvement in the formulation and implementation of all programmes of the Union. In this context, the Union must co-ordinate and take decisions on policies in areas of common interest to the member states, as well as co-ordinate and harmonise policies between the existing and future regional economic communities, for the gradual attainment of the objectives of the Union.

A major development for our new organisation was the adoption of the New Partnership for Africa's Development by the Lusaka Summit as Africa's principal agenda for development, providing a holistic, comprehensive and integrated strategic framework for the socio-economic development of the continent, within the institutional framework of the African Union.

The creation of NEPAD has helped to place Africa at the apex of the global agenda, by:

  • Creating an instrument for advancing people-centred sustainable development in Africa;
  • Using the rich natural resources and people for the benefit of Africans and ensuring that these masses are themselves the agents of change; and,
  • Providing a common African platform from which to engage the rest of the international community in a dynamic partnership that holds real prospects for creating a better life for all.
In this regard, we must thank HE Mr Kofi Annan for the work he did resulting in the acceptance by the United Nations of NEPAD as its own African development programme, and thank him for appointing Ambassador Gambari as his Special Africa Representative.

We must also report that as current chair of the Union, we were privileged to address Summit meetings of Asean and Caricom, of leaders of East Asia and the Caribbean respectively. Both organisations expressed their desire further to strengthen their links with our continent by cooperating with the NEPAD processes. These matters will have to be followed up.

Again within this context, I must urge that we speed up our work of strengthening our relations of cooperation and solidarity with the African Diaspora. The Caribbean leaders requested that we raise this matter at this Sssembly as firmly as possible, in the knowledge that their brothers and sisters in Africa would respond by engaging Caricom to find practical ways of building an effective partnership between Africa and the Caribbean.

In this regard, I must also inform the Assembly of the invitation extended to all of us by the Government and people of Haiti, who, on January 1st next year, will celebrate the bicentenary of the historic victory of the African slaves of Haiti. As the Assembly is aware, in 1804 Haiti became the first black republic in the world, having defeated the armies of Napoleon that sought to maintain Haiti as a slave colony.

The work that we continue to do around NEPAD has helped us to change the development paradigm such that we engage our development partners as equals based on programmes drawn up by Africans. We look forward to the report on NEPAD that will be presented by the chairperson of the Implementation Committee, HE President Olusegun Obasanjo.

There is an on-going challenge to ensure that we advance the vision of the African Union to build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society, in order to strengthen solidarity and cohesion among the peoples of Africa.

Undoubtedly, the active involvement of African non-governmental organisations, professional associations and civil society organisations, in particular women, youth, trade unions and the private sector are required in Africa's integration process as well as in the formulation and implementation of programmes of the African Union.

In this context, there is a particular weakness in what we have managed to achieve thus far. The organs of the African Union that have been launched so far are all state related. We should be concerned that we have not made sufficient progress with regard to the formation of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC). I think we would all agree that this situation is undesirable, because in the various Union meetings held during the past year, concern about alienating the people in the establishment of the Union has been expressed.

We must act to live up to our commitment to ensure the urgent involvement of civil society organisations and professional bodies in the processes of the Union. Accordingly, it is necessary to finalise the proposals for the launching of ECOSOCC.

We are still faced with many challenges for us to make this continental organisation a vibrant and effective instrument for the development of our continent. To achieve this we would have to dedicate more time, energy and resources to the AU. We have to place our individual national interests within the context of our continental and collective interests. The issue of funding the budget of the Union through a revised scale of assessments, as well as investigating alternate sources of funding must therefore be important matters for our consideration.

Even though we will defend our interests as member states in the various organs of the Union, we must at the same time be obliged to take into account the objectives and needs of the Union as a whole. In this regard, I am confident that we will continue to work within the organs of the Union on the understanding that these are continental institutions for the benefit of all our countries.

Consequently, we should not aspire to seek the lowest common denominator between us in our deliberations within each organ, but rather work towards an optimum balance between the Union's and the member states' interests.

I would like to thank all our Heads of State and Government, the Ministers, the Interim Chairperson of the AU Commission and the Commissioners, the esteemed Secretary-General of the United Nations and the specialised agencies of the UN, as well as other governments throughout the world, together with the multilateral organisations, for the cooperation they have extended to us during the period of our chairpersonship of the Union. This made it possible for us to take a few steps forward towards fulfilling our shared goal of the renaissance of Africa.

The expectations of the masses of our people have been raised to higher levels. The peoples of the rest of the world are greatly moved at the common effort in which we are engaged, to take our destiny into our hands, creating for ourselves a continent of peace, democracy, prosperity and African and human solidarity. Together we have made a good beginning. Together, let us move forward faster to build a life of hope for the children of Africa and the African Diaspora.

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