Egypt takes over chairmanship of African Union

New talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum are ongoing, but many in Egypt fear that the dam could harm its vital water share.
Monday 11/02/2019
Egyptian President and new African Union chairperson Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during the 32nd African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on February 10, 2019. (AFP)
Egyptian President and new African Union chairperson Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during the 32nd African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on February 10, 2019. (AFP)

LONDON - Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi was elected chair of the African Union on Sunday, following an African leaders’ summit in Addis Ababa.

Sisi pledged to focus on the issue of security during his tenure, with Cairo known to favour a broad, collaborative-based approach to counter-terrorism.

“Our work must continue to improve peace and security in Africa in a holistic and sustainable manner," El Sisi said in an address to African leaders. "Mediation and preventive diplomacy will remain one of the priorities of the African Union."

"Terrorism remains a cancer that affects African nations and steals the dreams of our people and we must identify and combat those who fund terrorism activities on the continent," Sisi added.

The Egyptian president also indicated that he intended to press ahead with reforms to the African Union.

"Egypt will work hard to continue the path... of institutional, structural and financial reform of the Union, and complete achievements realised... to develop the capabilities of the Union and its Commission to meet the aspirations and hopes of African peoples,” he said in his speech.

He called on African leaders to work together to achieve economic and social development, including promoting greater integration between African countries by moving ahead with infrastructure and cross-border projects.

He specifically mentioned moving forward with the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), which aims to move all African Union states closer to achieving a single market.

CFTA was agreed on by 44 states in March 2018, but only 19 countries have so far ratified the agreement. Egypt was one of the first countries to sign the agreement and Cairo is now looking to assist other countries to move forward with the initiative.

Egypt takes over the chairmanship of the African Union at a time that Cairo remains at odds with Ethiopia over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

New talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum are ongoing, but many in Egypt fear that the dam could harm its vital water share, particularly with no agreement on the issue of the filling of the dam.  

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Cairo taking over the chairmanship of the African Union showed how far Egypt had come from 2013 when the body had suspended Egypt’s membership in the wake of former president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster.

“In just one year, Egypt succeeded in convincing the brothers in Africa that the country had witnessed a popular uprising that was seeking change in a clear democratic framework,” he said in comments carried by Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper.

He confirmed that Egypt would be looking to increase security in Africa during its chairmanship, adding that this was an issue that had a knock-on effect in the rest of the world, including fuelling Europe’s refugee crisis.

A meeting between the European Union and Arab League is set to take place later this month in Egypt, with one of the main focus being illegal migration.

Many hope that Cairo could use its role as host country and chair of the African Union to pursue a joined-up strategy to dealing with the issue.

“The main reasons for the [migration] crisis is the spread of conflicts in Africa, which caused the displacement of large numbers of people in African countries to escape not just armed conflicts, but also economic deterioration, security conditions and the spread of terrorism,” Shoukry said.

“Solutions come only with a comprehensive vision of how to resolve these conflicts,” he added.

The post of African Union chairman rotates annually between the five regions of the continent. Sisi took over the post from Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

It is the first time since the African Union was founded that Egypt assumes the chairmanship.