President Paul Kagame yesterday officially assumed the position of African Union chairperson, taking over from Guinea’s President Alpha Conde at the 30th AU Summit underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
This will be Kagame’s second major responsibility at the AU as he is also spearheading and supervising the body’s reforms process.
In his acceptance speech, Kagame thanked the continent for their ‘double trust’ – promising to do his best in both roles.
“It is a solemn honour, to accept the call to serve as Chairperson of our Union. Thank you for your double trust. First as the leader of the reform process and now as the leader of our Union. I promise to do this with you and do the best job I can. Obviously, I will need your full support,” he said.
Kagame’s first speech as AU chairperson highlighted the urgency of changing from old ways of running the continent, noting that it is running out of time to save itself from deprivation.
He said that the long periods of inaction over previous years had seen multiple growth courses unviable within the continent.
“Africa’s defining challenge is to create a pathway to prosperity for our people, especially young people. Elsewhere this has been achieved through industrialisation. But the growth trajectory that transformed Asia is no longer a viable option for Africa. We waited too long to act,” he said.
Among the options to avoid deprivation he cited creation of a single continental market, infrastructure integration and adoption of technology within economies.
“Technology has evolved so rapidly in recent years that Africa’s window to follow that strategy is narrowing much more rapidly than previously understood. We are running out of time but we must act now to save Africa from permanent deprivation,” the President said.
The African Union reforms and the self-financing reform, he noted, derive their urgency from the above realities.
However, he observed that all was not lost as the continent has assets and strengths to build on as well as programmes and policies that bear the right intentions.
“Africa has assets and strengths to build on, starting with this organisation and its tangible commitment to unity. This is an advantage which no other region of the world possesses in such abundance. Unity must be our starting point as we work to re-define Africa's plans and ambitions,” the President said.
Kagame also commended the steps and progress to integrate the continent and break long existing barriers such as the Single African Air Transport Market to be launched this Monday.
He called for speedy adoption of the Continental Free Trade Area, which is likely to be ready in the course of the year.
“We are nearly ready to adopt the Continental Free Trade Area. It needs to be done this year. By committing to break down these various barriers, we will send a tremendous signal in Africa and beyond that it is no longer business as usual,” he told fellow heads of state and government.
He observed that there was light at the end of the tunnel in regards to the achievement of the self-financing mechanism as the 0.2 per cent levy was already in place and operational.
However, he noted that the self-reliance of the continent would not be achieved instantly as dependence had been entrenched over decades.
Kagame, however, said that even though it will not take a short time to change the narrative, it should not take decades.
“We have helped perpetuate the narrative that Africa is a burden. This way of thinking has been around for decades. Fixing it won’t take a year, but it need not take twenty years either,” he said.
To the youth of the continent, Kagame called on them to be involved in changing the African narrative, saying that they have a crucial role to play.
The Head of State also paid tribute to the African Union staff, calling for their increased commitment as well as former AU chairpersons and leaders.
He said that it was out of the leaders’ commitment that much desired progress was eventually being realised.
Outgoing AU chairperson Alpha Condé, President of Guinea, said that he was glad to hand over to Kagame and called on the continent to support him.
“I am particularly glad to pass on the role to President Kagame who we also tasked with leading the reform process of the AU. It is our duty to continue to support him with ideas and concrete actions in our collective effort to build the Africa we want,” Conde said.