Reflections on a post-pandemic African Union Summit
Africa, we spoke. Now let's act.
February 23, 2023
“The most fundamental shift about the AU Summit was the strength of a growing narrative - that Africa must build its own resilience and chart its own path toward a better future. This was evident in the political speeches and in reflections with the leaders I met in my bilateral engagements,” says Ahunna Eziakonwa, UN Assistant Secretary General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa. “The Summit confirmed what we have known at UNDP Africa: that investing in Africa’s promise will drive the continent to prosperity.”
Eziakonwa is referring to the 36th African Union Summit of 18-19 February in Addis Ababa, which gathered Heads of State and Government seized with the need to forge ahead for a resilient Africa that must not only navigate, but defeat the polycrisis the continent faces. This year’s AU theme—accelerating the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a strong embodiment of this shift.
UNDP had a strong presence at the Summit. As we announced in advance, our senior leadership participated in key open sessions, held strategic bilaterals with leaders of government and the African Union Commission, hosted high-level side events, launched ground-breaking flagship reports, and participated in panels on peace and security, youth, gender equality, AfCFTA and carbon markets, among others.
In a continuation of our series, #AfricaLetsTalk, below are a few reflections, in the words of dignitaries and UNDP staff, on what they took away from the 36th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit.
AFRICAN UNITY AND INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY
The AU has a vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”. To fulfill this vision, “part of the work we can all do is to dream.” So suggests President Azali Assoumani of Comoros, elected at the Summit as Chair of the African Union for 2023. The AU and its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, had a “luminous vision [that] continues to inspire our … march towards the ideal of African integration,” he said.
“Each of us can contribute our own lights to this “luminous vision,” which, even many years from now, our descendants will still benefit from.”
Another part of the work is to build. Consider the words of Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission since 2017. In his words, “African states must come together to build mechanisms for internal resilience, intra-African solidarity [and] African financial institutions.” The Chairperson’s remarks point to African solutions for a prosperous African future. After all, he added, “solidarity” and “mutual aid” are the basis for African civilization.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres also spoke at the Summit, confirming the UN’s commitment to supporting Africa to attain the vision of Agenda 2063. “The United Nations stands with the people of Africa at this moment that is a moment of risk, but that is also a moment of enormous promise and potential,” he said. “The 21st century could be—it must be—Africa’s century.”
FULFILLING THE PROMISE OF THE AfCFTA
"The AfCFTA is Africa's best chance for socio-economic transformation. I truly believe that we are on to planting the seeds for a new Africa. One of prosperity, dignity and resilience," says Ahunna Eziakonwa.
Her confidence resonated with the perspectives of Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, who said, “Under extremely difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic, and a challenging geo-economic context of our time, we have been able to make significant and meaningful advancements.”
And in the words of UNDP Strategic Advisor on Africa, Dr. Joy Kategekwa, “We have broken the pact with low volume, low value exports. With the AfCFTA, we can look, with confidence, to a future of made-in-Africa goods and services. And with this, is the prospect of a renewed and revitalized Africa.”
Aside from providing inspiration for a better future, the Summit was also a place to advance concrete work. The High-Level Public-Private Sector Dialogue for Trade and Investment in Africa called for demonstrable actions to ensure adequate ecosystems for MSMEs and their better linkages with large corporations, free movement of people and goods, effective cross-border payment systems, and enhanced infrastructure assets.
“UNDP renewed its commitment to supporting an AfCFTA that fully unlocks the potential of micro, small and medium enterprises,” says Komi Tsowou, UNDP Regional Advisor on the AfCFTA. “We will continue to work with AU partners on mechanisms that position women and youth as lead winners at every stage of AfCFTA. We are working to provide them with the strategies & tools to enhance readiness to seize the one African market,” he added.
EMPOWERING YOUTH AND WOMEN
Young people and their concerns were a major agenda item at the Summit.
Fellows in the African Young Women Leaders (AfYWL) Fellowship Programme, a joint project of the AU Commission and UNDP, attended the AU’s first Youth Town Hall, led by AU Youth Envoy Chido Mpemba, who called on young people to be “the drivers of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.”
Several of the fellows shared their perspectives on the Town Hall. “I was inspired to see greater investment in the young people of Africa,” says Ntami Eborty, a Fellow with the Governance and Peacebuilding team. “It was special to observe Burundi become the 40th country to ratify the African Youth Charter. Now, onward to all 55 AU Member States!”
Adja Sy, a Fellow with the Regional Programme for Africa, says, “When young people get access to decision-making tables, we must take on the duties that come with it. That means shouldering the responsibility to advocate for youth.”
Tatenda Zvobgo, a Fellow with the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment team, agrees, adding, “The Summit allowed me to witness even more of the hard work being done by African leaders and international organizations.” Zvobgo urges other young people not to simply observe the hard work, but to “take ownership of the space. We must build the Africa we want.”
Esther Mpagalile, a Fellow with the Inclusive Growth team, points out that “women and youth form 85% of Africa’s population. We are not the future. We are the now!”
“Despite the challenges the continent is confronted with, Africa’s youth are committed and ready to work towards Agenda 2063 and contribute to the AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade,” says Eleanor Ewi, a Fellow with the Regional AfCFTA project. “Young people are willing to make their voices heard in the implementation of the AfCFTA.
The sense of urgency that these young leaders feel must be all of ours.
The Gender Pre-Summit called on African leaders to accelerate investments, actions and accountability for gender equality and women empowerment in Africa. UNDP will continue to contribute towards the implementation of the Women and Youth Financial and Economic Inclusion (WYFEI) initiative and strengthen its partnerships with partners to enhance market access for women and youth entrepreneurs in Africa and promote financial inclusion, including in borderlands areas, in line with the Maputo Protocol.
The work of the African Union to transform the continent’s development landscape is complex. Consider the many official statements and decisions that come out the Summit every year, and the thorny problems they address, such as violent extremism, gender inequality, economic decline, and environmental degradation.
“The AU Summit season is usually hectic, but at its root, it is a significant step toward the larger vision of the African Union,” says Sophia Abra, Partnerships Coordination Specialist. “The Summit provided the opportunity to strengthen our partnerships with the AU and other regional actors, and to hear the voices of African decision makers and their vision for the future of the continent at the side events and bilateral engagements.”
“While the AU Summit is over for this year, I take heart in the progress we make every day. Growing complexities in the world require new mechanisms for peace. Regions like the Sahel must transcend the ‘securitization trap’ and begin to renew investments in governance at district/community, local administration, and state levels – and also, in development,” says Dr. Jide Okeke, Coordinator, Regional Programme for Africa.
UNDP will support Comoros as it assumes the position of Chair of the AU for 2023.
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