At the 33rd African Union (AU) summit in February 2020, Egypt will complete its term as chair of the AU and hand over the baton to South Africa. The PSC Report spoke to Egypt’s Ambassador Osama Abdelkhalek on the achievements and challenges during the year.
Egypt announced three major areas of focus as chair of the AU at the beginning of 2019. To what extent have these been realised?
Egypt’s chairing of the AU in 2019 came 20 years since the last time Egypt had the honour to preside over our organisation. During these years, various changes have taken place in the landscape of the African continent, and challenges have emerged on all fronts, be it in the peace and security arena or in the development domain.
Cognizant of these facts, Egypt embarked on an extensive and inclusive process of consultation throughout 2018, with all stakeholders on the local, regional and global level. This was with the aim of coming up with a set of priorities that not only address the main challenges and concerns of the African continent but also fulfil the aspirations of African citizens and enable Africa to stand on equal footing in international fora with global players.
To this end, a number of priorities were selected for the Egyptian chairmanship to the AU to ensure the necessary momentum was created and concrete outcomes achieved: a) the African Continental Free Trade Area as an accelerator of continental integration; b) infrastructure as basis for supporting the regional integration process; and c) post-conflict reconstruction and development within the peace and security arena as an effective tool to improve resilience in countries emerging from conflict. In addition, Egypt also chose to focus on increasing the efficiency and improving the methods of work of the union to further reinforce the reform process.
One of the most important objectives of the Egyptian chairmanship of the AU was to make 2019 ‘The Year of Africa in Egypt’ and ‘The Year of Egypt in the AU’ in a manner that solidifies Egypt’s contribution to the AU agenda of continental integration.
What were Egypt's major achievements as chair of the AU in 2019?
The historic announcement of the entry into force of the continental free trade area and the launch of its operational tools are highlights. Egypt deposited the instrument of ratification of the agreement on 8 April 2019, and the momentum is being sustained to assert the importance of focusing on the technical aspects of the agreement in order to ensure its full and effective implementation, through cooperation with international partners, with emphasis on capacity building.
Another milestone on the road to continental integration was the convening of the first edition of the mid-year coordination meeting between the regional economic communities [RECs] and the AU on 8 July 2019 in Niamey. It was agreed to further refine the foundational documents, including the division of labour matrix and the revised protocol on relations between the AU and RECs to be adopted at the upcoming February 2020 summit. All this is done with a view to create a sustainable and productive relationship between the AU and the regional arrangements in favour of implementing Agenda 2063.
Concerning the dimension of infrastructure, Cairo hosted in November 2019 the PIDA [Programme for Infrastructure Development] Week, which discussed in detail the criteria for selecting the list of projects that will be implemented within the framework of the second phase of the AU Infrastructure Programme (2021–2030). This programme carries the ambition of Africans towards solid and viable continental integration and connectivity.
In the area of peace and security, post-conflict reconstruction and development has not been given the required attention, despite its critical importance in preventing relapse into conflict. With this in mind, Egypt has finalised, in coordination with the AU Commission, the proposed structure of the AU Center for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development hosted in Cairo. It will present a remarkable added value to conflict prevention in Africa. The host country agreement was signed on 11 December 2019, on the margins of the Aswan Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development.
Egypt, through the city of Aswan, hosted the first version of the Forum, an important gathering through which Egypt aims at contributing effectively to the narrative of peace and security in Africa. The goal is to have an annual gathering of all relevant stakeholders to discuss the theoretical background and pillars of the African Peace and Security Architecture in addition to updates regarding regional and country level conflicts.
Within the same context, Egypt hosted two high-level consultative summits on Sudan and Libya on 23 April and the ministerial follow-up meeting on Sudan on 20 June 2019. This was in addition to supporting the work of the AU regarding the peace process in the CAR [Central African Republic], South Sudan and other African hotspots as theoretical implementation of our commitment to finding ‘African solutions to African problems’.
What have been the major challenges during Egypt’s term as chair?
Since assuming the position last February, Egypt has noted strong demands by member states to improve the AU Commission’s working methods and to impose a higher level of discipline and a greater degree of transparency. Several steps have been taken in this regard, including:
What are the lessons that the coming chair for 2020, South Africa, can learn from Egypt’s term in office? What are the key issues the next chair should prioritise in 2020?
Within the framework of coordination between the current Egyptian chairmanship and the incoming chairmanship of South Africa, starting from 9 February 2020, a number of coordination meetings were held at the ambassadorial and working level to ensure smooth transition and unity of purpose.
During these meetings it was noted that both chairs share a number of common priorities. These priorities reflect the deep understanding both countries have of the mechanisms of work within the AU and the topics and issues that need extensive attention.
All consecutive chairmanships have to ensure the sustainably of the reforms that were initiated at the AU, particularly those related to raising the level of efficiency, improving coordination and methods of work, and reinforcing financial and administrative discipline, in addition to the files placed high on the African common agenda.
How has Egypt carried forward the AU reform agenda initiated in 2016?
Egypt, throughout its chairmanship of the AU, has been committed to implementing the reform agenda stemming from a genuine belief in the necessity of the reforms and the possibility of upgrading the capabilities of our union to better serve Africa’s goals and ambitions.
The Egyptian chairmanship has been in close and continuous coordination and consultation with the reform unit [based in the office of the AU Commission chairperson] on different cross-cutting topics. These include issues relating to the Peace Fund and the ongoing efforts to finalise the consultations regarding the new scale of assessment, the way to manage the fund and how to ensure its sustainability.
An enlarged retreat including the Peace Fund Board of trustees, the bureau of the PRC and relevant stakeholders will take place soon to deliberate on all these matters to allow the fund’s operationalisation in the upcoming summit.
Tireless efforts were exerted by the PRC subcommittee on structures and the PRC subcommittee on budgetary matters, in coordination with the reform unit, to come up with a refined proposal for the new departmental structure of the AU Commission, to be adopted by the upcoming summit. This proposal has been finalised and reviewed by the PRC in a series of sessions to ensure that the new structure reflects the essence of the reform through a lean and results-oriented structure.
The Egyptian chairmanship is of the view that reforming the AU is a continuous and evolving process that needs the concerted efforts of all member states, with a view to ensuring its sustainability and mainstreaming it at all levels and areas of work.
Egypt, as a founding member of the organisation, is committed to continue supporting the reform efforts after the end of its term as chair.