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South Africa’s agenda as chair of the AU is to create the Africa the continent wants


Clayson Monyela is the Head of Public Diplomacy at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa.

As African Union chair, South Africa is determined to take the project of continental unity, integration and development further, guided by our foreign policy priorities and the continent’s aspirations as espoused in Agenda 2063.

South Africa is the new chair of the African Union (AU). Our country has also taken over the chairmanship of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), and the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change. Being at the helm of these strategic continental bodies presents us with opportunities, albeit at a challenging time for both our country and the continent.

Holding these positions means that as a country, South Africa will be compelled to redouble our efforts to build strong, sustainable and resilient regional and continental mechanisms able to support our national efforts to deliver durable, and inclusive economic opportunities for our people, in particular women and youth. It also means that we need to serve as a buffer against unrest, instability, terrorism and violent extremism on our continent.

South Africa’s revitalised industrial strategy has a focus on expanding our trade and investment links with the rest of our region, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the continent at large. 

SADC continues to serve as the primary vehicle for South African foreign policy in order to achieve regional development and integration within Southern Africa. 

South Africa’s future remains inextricably linked to the future of the African continent and that of its neighbours in Southern Africa. It is for this reason that South Africa contributes to a SADC that strives for a balanced and equitable regional integration as a fundamental condition for sustainable development in the region. This seeks to address challenges such as unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment. Thus, the developmental aspirations of SADC finds resonance in South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP), which provides a link to our economic development and that of SADC.

As the Chair of the APRM in 2020, South Africa will be primarily responsible for driving the APRM’s good governance agenda.

Democracy and good governance are critical to laying the foundations for sustainable development to take place in Africa. Accordingly, South Africa has consistently called for full compliance with the norms and instruments of the AU in support of democracy and good governance on the continent as articulated in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and others, towards ensuring the achievement of sustainable and lasting peace in conflict, and post-conflict settings in Africa.

Positive progress has been made in the past three years in entrenching democracy through the expansion of electoral democracy throughout the continent. It is significant that in keeping with the spirit and letter of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the continent has witnessed a growing number of countries, including South Africa holding peaceful, free and credible elections. In this regard, it is instructive to note that in the period 2018 to 2019, 31 African countries held peaceful, free and credible elections, which expressed the will of the people in those countries. 

As AU chair, South Africa is determined to take the project of continental unity, integration and development further, guided by our foreign policy priorities and the continent’s aspirations as espoused in African Agenda 2063: “The Africa We Want”.

We know that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), agreement will only become a reality if the infrastructure between African countries is developed. Infrastructure is at the core of Africa’s social, economic and political challenges.

As the supporter of the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative under NEPAD, South Africa has a critical role to play – and must act on the opportunity presented – in profiling infrastructure development in support of the AfCFTA.

The AfCFTA agreement will make Africa the largest common market in the world, with a population of more than a billion people and a combined GDP of over $3-trillion.

It will give impetus to intra-Africa trade, reignite industrialisation and pave the way for the meaningful integration of Africa into global value chains and the global economy in general. This will have the long-term effects of making the AU financially independent, leading to stronger institutions which are the building blocks of an effective and efficient union.

A strong, united and independent AU, working in partnership with regional organisations and arrangements is instrumental for the realisation of a continent free of war, conflict and underdevelopment, as encapsulated in the African Agenda 2063. That’s what South Africa is aiming at.

With 2020 marking the end of AU’s aspiration of “Silencing of the Guns”, it will be important to take stock of the achievements and challenges. This is particularly important for us as South Africa is the AU appointed champion on AU-UN cooperation on peace operations.

Specific focus will need to be given to two intractable conflicts on the continent – in Libya and South Sudan – where South Africa is already actively involved in seeking solutions.  

Since the chairmanship also coincides with South Africa’s third tenure as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, South Africa will promote cooperation between the three African members of the UN Security Council and the AU’s Peace and Security Council. 

In January 2012, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 2033, which urges for enhanced cooperation between the UNSC and sub-regional organisations, particularly the AU, in peace and security matters.

Resolution 2033 initiated by South Africa stresses the importance of establishing a more effective relationship between the UNSC and regional bodies, in particular, the AU Peace and Security Council, especially in the area of conflict prevention, resolution and management, electoral assistance and regional conflict prevention. 

The resolution also encourages the improvement of regular interaction, consultation and coordination between the two bodies on matters of mutual interest. Our duty as AU chair will be to remind UNSC members of this resolution and monitor its implementation.

It is the intention of South Africa to continue to advocate for multilateralism and reform of global institutions, such as the UNSC, to ensure that they represent the interests of Africa and the developing world. Efforts to undermine a rules-based multilateral approach to international trade should be resisted. DM


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