Addis Ababa was a flurry of activity at the end of June and beginning of July, as African heads of state converged for their usual rendezvous at the continental body’s Summit. This year’s Summit marked the African Union’s 15th anniversary since it changed its name from the Organisation of African Unity in 2002 to face today’s reality. There were no candles to be blown but there were cakes of all sorts. The 29th session was midway through the year’s theme: “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth,” and the entry into the foray of the new Chairperson, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat.
As the heads of state got to the nitty gritty of the subjects on the agenda, they sought to set the stakes high and push the throttle to move faster. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who had been set as the driving force behind the institutional reform of the AU, presented his report to his peers in which they were urged to expedite the reform process. Part of this reform will be to end the AU operations donor dependency. It was not surprising, therefore, when Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, made a $1m cheque donation, which he said came from the sale of 300 cattle, in fulfilment of a pledge he made when he was chairman of the body in 2015.
President Kagame was also elected to succeed Guinea’s Alpha Conde as the rotational president of the African Union. As one African diplomat in Addis Ababa put it: “When he comes, he will shake things up. We will definitely move at a faster pace and he may turn Kigali to the Mecca of Africa where every problem will be looked into. This is because he will not be moving from one country to the other. There is no doubting his capacity. We will only have to wait and see.”
Africa’s only woman president, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, spoke for the last time as president in the assembly. She will bid farewell to party politics as she steps down after elections in her country later this year. She was full of praise for the organization’s solidarity in assisting her native Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone when the three countries were hit by the deadly Ebola disease that took thousands of lives. The African Union sent in high-level medical teams, helping to fight the epidemic in the Mano River Union countries.
Also at the summit, ONE made a significant impact with its #GirlsCount campaign in the deliberations happening around the heads of state. The Chairperson of the African Union welcomed the message to invest in girls’ education from ONE Goodwill Ambassador and former president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete. So did the Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma, and the Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo. Their spouses were even more enthusiastic. Sierra Leone’s First Lady Sia Koroma said, “We need more of this. I have been fighting for our girls, especially those in remote areas to go to school. I go there to meet and talk to the people. If you can help us cement that, it would be great.” Her comments were echoed by the other first ladies who took part in the campaign, namely Nigerian First Lady Aisha Buhari, Gambian First Lady Fatoumata Bah Barrow, Cote d’Ivoire First Lady Dominique Ouattara, and their host, Madam Roman Tesfaye.
There was also a strong commitment to investing in the youth of Africa as African leaders also discussed the solemn issue of the incessant and perilous youth migration flow from the continent to Europe.
The youths themselves were not left out either: At the Gender is my Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) Pre-Summit Consultative Meeting, they turned up en-masse and signed up to request that African leaders do more for girls that are out of school.
Taking its cue from this year’s theme, The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, seized the opportunity to provide its comprehensive atlas showing data, where available, of the continent’s demographic dividend.
All told, the Summit had the aura of a huge success as the leaders went away clear in their minds that, come next January, everything will be in place for them to sign on the dotted lines and make good on their promises to the continent’s youth.