The Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) have elected Felix- Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as the new Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2021.
The event 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 theme: “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want”.
Tshisekedi is taking over the baton of command from Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, who has concluded his term as the Chairperson of the African Union for the year 2020.
Given 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 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.
On behalf of the outgoing President of the Union, the symbols of the Union were presented physically to the incoming Chair by the AUC Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, while the flag of the African Union was handed over virtually by Ramaphosa.
In his handing over speech, 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.
The outgoing Chair of the Union 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.
Ramaphosa however noted with satisfaction the fact 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”.
In his acceptance speech, 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.”
Tshisekedi commended President 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.