Africa strategizes on deepening integration, ending conflict
By Danai Majaha
Southern Africa News Feature – The African Union will convene an extraordinary summit in Rwanda in March to sign the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and consider the CFTA legal instruments, thus taking a major step toward strengthening trade among Africa countries.
When fully operational, the proposed CFTA is expected to increase African intra-regional trade from the present 10 percent to about 40 percent.
The CFTA will bring together all the 55 AU Member States, creating a combined market of more than one billion people and a combined Gross Domestic Product of more than US$3.4 trillion.
The Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, was elected Chairman for the coming year at the 30th Ordinary Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government, held in January in Ethiopia, and he immediately offered to host the extraordinary summit on 21 March in Kigali.
This will be preceded by an extraordinary session of the AU Specialised Technical Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs to consider the instruments prior to the meeting of heads of state and government.
Africa had originally planned to launch the CFTA by the end of 2017. However, this was delayed to ensure that the right modalities were put in place for the success of the market.
Another key outcome of the 30th AU summit that took place on 28-29 January at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa was the adoption of a protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to Free Movement of Persons, Rights of Residence and Right of Establishment and its draft implementation roadmap.
Other key decisions reached by the AU summit included the launch of a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), which is vital to the achievement of the long-term vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa under the AU Agenda 2063.
The launch of the single air transport market is expected to bring about greater connectivity across the continent, a key ingredient to efforts towards sustainable development of the aviation and tourism industry in Africa.
The decision to adopt SAATM, one of the flagship projects of the AU Agenda 2063, was made during the 24th Ordinary Session of AU Assembly which took place in January 2015 in Ethiopia.
Discussions on African open skies have been on-going for the last two decades, culminating in the adoption of the Yamoussoukro Decision by African leaders in 2000.
Currently, 23 Member States have pledged their commitment to the single air market whose implementation is expected to increase the number of routes, reduce the cost of air travel and contribute to the expansion of intra-African trade and tourism.
African leaders are, however, keenly aware that these plans cannot fully succeed in the presence of conflict and so they also agreed to intensify efforts to end armed conflicts on the continent through greater cooperation aimed at “silencing the guns” by 2020.
The Summit appointed former Algerian Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra, who is also a former AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, as the AU High Representative for Silencing the Guns.
They called upon member states, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the United Nations and other partners “to extend their cooperation and support his activities in assisting Africa and its people to silence the guns in Africa by the year 2020.”
“The Assembly further stresses the urgent need for the AU to mobilize funding in support of the activities of the High Representative to enable him carry out his mandate, particularly galvanizing efforts of all stakeholders to scale up activities in the implementation of the AU Master Roadmap,” reads the statement issued at the end of the AU Summit.
The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Asisi, who was President of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) in January, presented the PSC report on Implementation of AU Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa by Year 2020.
The roadmap was endorsed by the 28th AU Summit held a year ago in Ethiopia, and provides practical, time-bound implementable steps to toward the goal of silencing the guns in two years time.
It is premised on the principle that Africa should assume total responsibility for its destiny.
Among the practical steps proposed under the roadmap is a commitment by AU member states and RECs to provide adequate funding for the strengthening of the African Standby Force (ASF) in the areas of force preparation, force employment and post-force employment in line with the 5-Year Maputo Work Plan on the Enhancement of the ASF.
The roadmap also requires member states and RECs to consolidate legal agreements for rapid deployment of the ASF as a response mechanism in support of efforts to end conflict, as well as to protect civilians, including during natural and man-made disasters.
Another practical step is strengthening linkages between early warning information and early response by decision makers. This will be done through convening of periodic PSC sessions and regular consultations between the PSC and sister AU organs.
On illicit inflow of weapons into Africa, the roadmap requires member states to stop suppliers and recipients from promoting and sustaining illicit business in weapons.
To achieve this, member states should append their signatures, ratify and implement regional, continental and international instruments on illicit weapons by 2020.
Other practical steps include stopping rebels, non-state actors and their financiers and political allies from accessing weapons as well as strengthening national capacities for the prevention and combating of terrorism and violent extremism.
The roadmap also requires member states to strengthen cross-border cooperation in conflict prevention, terrorism, and cross-border crime, piracy through building capacity of African countries to peacefully address border disputes and use diplomatic means in settling border disputes.
Summit expressed concern over the persistent political impasse and security situation in Libya, which poses a challenge to security and stability in neighbouring countries and in the entire region.
“The Assembly requested the African Union Commission to re-launch the efforts of the Contact Group on Libya, in close cooperation with the United Nations, in order to pool the efforts of the international community on the issue and support the efforts of the African Union High-Level Committee on Libya,” the statement said.
It commended the efforts by the leader of the AU High-Level Committee on Libya and President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, and the AU Special Representative, former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to achieve lasting peace in Libya.
In addition, countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have been experiencing instability.
Summit expressed concern over the repeated violations of an Agreement of Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians and Humanitarian Access signed recently by South Sudanese stakeholders, and called upon warring parties “to immediately put an end to all military actions and comply scrupulously with their commitments as contained in the agreement of 21 December 2017.” sardc.net