The 25th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) opened in Johannesburg, South Africa on Sunday, June 14.
According to a dispatch from Johannesburg, the opening ceremonies took place at the Sandton Convention Center, with special addresses from the President of Zimbabwe and Chairperson of the African Union, Mr. Robert Mugabe; Chairperson of the Commission of the AU Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma; President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Jacob Zuma; among others.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also served as a major speaker during a debate later organized under the Summit’s theme: “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.”
In her presentation, President Sirleaf said 2015 for the AU and the women of the continent was historic because it represented 20 years since the women of the world gathered in Beijing, China to reflect upon their role and potential in society, as well as to chart a new course for equality, equity and equal representation and participation in society.
She commended the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Zuma and welcomed the High-Level discussion on the theme of the Summit.
President Sirleaf pointed out that while it is true that the situation of women varies by country and region, there are common denominators or factors which propel or impede the path towards women’s full attainment of empowerment and development on the continent.
President Sirleaf reflected that in November 2014, the African Ministers for Gender and Women’s Affairs adopted the Addis Ababa Declaration on accelerating the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action for Member States to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment as stipulated in the AU’s Agenda 2063.
She further noted that the declaration of the Heads of State and Government on the theme at the 24th AU Assembly in January, 2015 and the communique arising from the stakeholders consultation, also held in January of the same year, highlighted key areas of action that are critical if Africa is to collectively achieve women’s empowerment in all sectors and spheres of the continent, and if women and girls are to live dignified lives free from fear and discrimination.
Highlighting a few of the areas, President Sirleaf pointed out that in Liberia and throughout West Africa as well as the continent women are major players in the agriculture sector. They provide 80 percent of the agricultural labor force, 76 percent of cash crop production, 93 percent of food crop production, and conduct 85 percent of all marketing and trading, linking both rural and urban markets through their networks, said President Sirleaf.
She said women’s access to land, finance, technology, information and markets provide the basis for value addition. “I am aware, as most of you are, of the pre-consultative summit on financial inclusion of women in Agri-business, which was held over the past days. This consultative summit concluded with a declaration which was adopted by the African Ministers of Gender,” she said.
President Sirleaf commended the Ministers of Gender, the participants and organizers of the summit for a job well done and stated that Liberia supports the campaign to progressively banish the hand-held hoes to the museums.
She was certain that a Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) under NEPAD will seize the opportunity to continue to provide support under which some West African countries were beneficiaries.
President Sirleaf also indicated that in West Africa, women are largely engaged in the informal sector – agriculture, petty trading, small and medium scale enterprises. She insisted that it is important for them to have access to the factors of production which include land, finance, technology, information and markets. It is also necessary for women to acquire basic numeracy and literacy skills which will serve as an impetus for them to become financially independent and thereby lead to high productivity.
President Sirleaf emphasized the need to strengthen women’s resolve for political participation, representation and active involvement in decision making. She applauded South Africa, Senegal, Uganda, Mozambique and Namibia for the huge progress on women’s participation in development issues.
Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu and the Prime Minister of Egypt, Ibrahim Mahlab, also made presentations during the High Level Gender Debate.
A panel discussion moderated by Dr. Carlos Lopes preceded the Presidential leaders’ addresses. Some of the panelists included the Attorney-General of Botswana, the European Union Commissioner on the Environment, and the head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, among others.
During the opening ceremonies, the Chairman of the AU Authority of Heads of States, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, rallied the continent to seek ways of adding value to the continent’s natural resources and avoid the continued exportation of raw materials from the continent.
He praised the women of Africa for their resilience and commitment to the cause of Africa and particularly described President Sirleaf and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as “trail-blazers” of the women’s struggle on the African continent.
President Mugabe commended President Sirleaf, amidst applause, for confronting and defeating the Ebola virus disease in Liberia.
For her part, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Zuma, thanked the South African Government and people for hosting the summit and welcomed the newly elected and inaugurated leaders of the continent to their first African Union meeting.
She also praised President Sirleaf for her extraordinary leadership during the Ebola fight and the Liberian people for their cooperation, as well as all partners who helped the country and requested support to build the healthcare system of the affected countries.
Dr. Nkosazana Zuma also reported on the activities of the Commission during the period under review.
President Jacob Zuma welcomed leaders of Africa to South Africa and declared that the continent was embarking on a new path of growth and development. He emphasized the need to source funding to support development and meaningful projects on the continent and stressed that it was Africans and not the partners that manage the continent’s conflict situations.
Several other statements were made by the Presidents and/or representatives of Nigeria, Namibia, Lesotho, Tanzania, the Arab League, the Palestinian territories, among others.
The Summit continues on Monday with President Sirleaf expected to report on the AU-HLC, APRM Forum and provide update during the special Ebola Session.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, President Sirleaf held talks with the Cuban delegation to the African Union Summit, led by the Vice President, Salvador Valdes Mesa. The delegation briefed President Sirleaf about Cuba’s international relations and ongoing processes with the United States and called on Liberia for support along the way.
President Sirleaf thanked Cuban Vice President for the progress being made in their international relations, challenges and promised Liberia’s support to the process. She thanked Cuba for its assistance to Liberia during the Ebola crisis and requested the deployment of Cuban doctors to Liberia. The two leaders discussed other issues of mutual and concern to both countries.