President Robert Mugabe took over the chairmanship of the African Union today as the 24th A-U Summit officially opened in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The 90 year-old Zimbabwean leader replaced Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, whose term ended today.
President Mugabe had the assembly in stitches in his acceptance speech as he went down memory lane, narrating his memories of attending the AU's forerunner, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 as a representative of Zanu during the liberation struggle.
In a speech that received much applause and was described by many interviewed by Studio 7 as funny, sensible and effective, Mr. Mugabe expressed what he said was his deep gratitude and appreciation to his colleagues for electing him AU chair.
“With the full knowledge of the onerous responsibility that lies ahead, I humbly accept your collective decision. I do so confidently that I can always count on your full support and cooperation in the execution of the important mandate you have given me,” he said.
The president’s speech lacked the usual anger that is commonly associated with him. He didn’t bash the West but joked about God not giving them eyes to see vast natural resources like oil being discovered in many African countries, adding Africa is for Africans and so are its resources, which he said should be used for the benefit of its people.
“During my tenure as chair, I will deliberately provoke your thoughts to pay special attention to issues of infrastructure, value addition and beneficiation…our roads, rail, air and sea networks are not sufficiently developed to stimulate intra-Africa trade, investment and tourism,” he said.
Mr. Mugabe received much applause when he officially launched the theme of the summit and AU which declared the 2015 as “The Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Agenda 2063.”
"The theme offers us great opportunity as Africa to strengthen our initiatives and to consolidate the gains we have made in the area of gender equality and women empowerment," he said.
In her speech, AU Commission chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urged African leaders to deal with issues affecting the continent’s growth, in particular terrorism in West Africa, and trouble spots in central Africa, among other issues.
She said Agenda 2063, the continent’s blueprint for development in the next 50 years, will be put before the heads of state for adoption today, adding everyone in Africa has a role to play in making sure the plan delivers, in particular creating jobs and getting the continent out of poverty.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also spoke at the official launch of the summit, urging African leaders to respect term limits and leave office when their time runs out, adding they should also accept defeat in elections.
He said, “I urge leaders who refuse to leave office when their term expires to please listen to the wishes and aspirations of your people….”
Mr. Ban said Africa needs to do more to rid the continent of the scourge of violence that he says continues to affect women and girls. Mr. Ban emphasised the need for the continent to empower women, adding ignoring women and their rights can only lead to the downfall of a nation.
The summit touched on many issues, including Ebola, terrorism, funding for the AU, peace and stability and related issues.