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Daily Briefing: DR Congo’s President Tshisekedi Takes Over as AU Chairman for 2021

The DR Congo head of state, Felix- Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo have been elected as the new Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2021 by the Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU).

The occasion took place on Saturday 6 February 2021 during the ongoing Thirty-Fourth (34th) Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union, holding virtually under the central idea: “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want”.

The Congolese politician who has been the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 25 January 2019. He is the leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the DRC’s oldest and largest party, succeeding his late father Étienne Tshisekedi in that role, a three-time Prime Minister of Zaire and opposition leader during the reign of Mobutu Sese Seko. Tshisekedi was the UDPS party’s candidate for president in the December 2018 general election, which he won, despite accusations of irregularities from several election monitoring organisations and other opposition parties.

President Tshisekedi is taking over the baton of command from H.E. Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa, who has concluded his term on Saturday 6 February 2021 as the Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2020.

Designating the prevailing context of the COVID19 pandemic, the handing over ceremony between the incoming and outgoing Chairs of the African Union was organized in a hybrid mode, both at the Conference Center of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the newly elected Chair of the Union, President Tshisekedi was taking part physically, in the solemn handing over ceremony at the podium of the AU Mandela Hall, in the presence of H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), while the outgoing Chair Ramaphosa, was taking part virtually all the way from South Africa. Other people in attendance during this highly symbolic moment were the Deputy Chairperson of the AUC, the AU Commissioners and other high officials of the Union as well as the delegation from RDC.

According to official statement, the symbols of the Union were presented physically to the incoming Chair by the AUC Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat on behalf of the outgoing President of the Union, while the flag of the African Union was handed over virtually by the South African President, H.E Cyril Ramaphosa.

The report noted that the composition of the new bureau of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union for 2021 was thereafter presented as follows:

1. Chair of the African Union – Democratic Republic of Congo, (Central African region)
2. First Vice President – Republic of Senegal, (West Region);
3. Second Vice President – Union of Comoros, (Eastern Region);
4. Third Vice President – Arab Republic of Egypt, (Northern Region); and
5. Rapporteur – Republic of South Africa, (Southern Region)

Handing over speech

President Ramaphosa wished the new AU Chairperson, a successful Chairmanship and thanked the Heads of States of AU Member States as well as the AU outgoing bureau, for their support during the tenure of his mandate which he said, was marked by the prevailing sanitary crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. President Ramaphosa highlighted some of the achievements under his chairmanship of the Union notably, the efforts to reduce conflict in the continent under the theme of silencing the guns; the economic empowerment of the women and youths, the enhancement of democracy and good governance, among other development programs under Agenda 2063.

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He further underlined the initiatives undertaken under his leadership to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include: the establishment of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus (AFTCOR); the Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing in Africa (PACT); the Consortium for COVID-19 Clinical Vaccine Trials (CONCVACT); the appointment of Special Envoys to mobilise the international support for the continental fight against COVID-19; the establishment of the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP): a platform developed to assist the AU Member States to tackle issues on the supply side of continent’s response to COVID-19 and access to medical supplies and equipment; the development of the vaccine strategy for the continent which was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Assembly; the establishment of the COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), in support of Africa vaccine strategy with the objective that no country and no one should be left behind; and the initiative to engage international partners and financial institutions to support countries whose economies have been devastated by the pandemic.

President Ramaphosa however stated that when the AU COVID-19 Response Fund was launched, the first contributions came from the AU Member States which was a demonstration of “the African ideals of unity and solidarity to fulfil our common objectives”.

Acceptance speech

In his remarks, President Tshisekedi said it is a unique privilege for the Democratic Republic of the Congo be given this opportunity as Chair of the African Union at a symbolic and highly significant moment when “we are celebrating the sixty years of the disappearance of a worthy son of the Congo and Africa, Mr. Patrice Émery Lumumba, who strongly believed in the great destiny of Africa. He did not hesitate to organize, in August 1960 in Kinshasa, then Leopoldville, the last Congress in the history of the great movement of Pan-Africanism. On June 30, 1960, shortly before his tragic death, he declared [I quote]: “Africa will write its own history and it will be in the north and south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity”. [End of quote].”

He commended President Cyril Ramaphosa, who, in difficult conditions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was able to mobilize the efforts of all the countries of the continent and partners to face this challenging moment. He also thanked Her Excellency Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and His Excellency Mr. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister, for the warm welcome that the Ethiopian people have never ceased to give AU Member States “during our meetings at the headquarters of the organization”, before expressing his sincere thanks to Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission for welcoming him “in this magnificent setting of the headquarters of our continental organization”.

Emphasising the theme of the year 2021, the new AU Chairperson Tshisekedi said, Arts, Culture and Heritage constitute the basis of the African Renaissance and offers the opportunity for Africans to turn back to our roots. “Culture is indeed, as Léopold Sédar Senghor said, at the beginning and at the end of everything, because it embraces all areas of life).”

Expectations

Human Rights Watch report noted that, President Tshisekedi assumes his functions at a time when the AU has been criticized for lacking the necessary will to castigate its members for violating their domestic and international human rights obligations and enforce its resolutions. Nevertheless, as chairperson of the AU Assembly, the Union’s highest policy and decision-making body, he could improve respect for and protection of human rights in the region, in accordance with the African Charter.

Carine Kaneza Nantulya, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch said: “African governments can do more to integrate efforts toward economic development with meeting people’s aspirations for justice, freedoms, equality, and dignity.” “The African Union should adopt a bolder stance for human rights, including by hinging the implementation of its agenda 2063 on the principles of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms,” Kaneza-Nantulya added.

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