South Africa has a lot on its plate as chair of the African Union (AU) for 2020. The PSC Report spoke to South Africa’s ambassador in Addis Ababa Xolisa Makaya about these priorities and how the country plans to tackle them in the coming months.
As part of the 2020 theme of the AU, ‘Silencing the Guns’, South Africa has announced it will focus on the conflict in South Sudan and Libya. How does South Africa plan to contribute to the efforts to resolve these conflicts?
South Africa is determined to contribute to on-going efforts of the AU to resolve conflicts in South Sudan, Libya, and other countries affected by conflict.
Regarding Libya, South Africa calls for the active involvement of the AU in the resolution of the Libyan crisis. The AU cannot be a spectator to the Libyan crisis, which has a direct impact on the security of the continent, particularly the Sahel region. As a member of the AU High-Level Committee on Libya, South Africa will continue to support the efforts of this committee, which is ably led by President Denis Sasso N’Guesso. To strengthen the AU efforts, a Contact Group on Libya has been established as per the decision of the 33rd AU Assembly. South Africa is one of the members of the Contact Group.
The Contact Group, working with the United Nations (UN), is expected to assist the people of Libya to unite and reconcile. In this regard, a National Reconciliation Conference is expected to be held during the course of the year. Over and above, that, the AU will be and should be involved in all the negotiations for ceasefire and political dialogue.
On South Sudan, South Africa welcomes the formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) and commends the political leaders for taking this bold step to form the transitional government. The formation of the transitional government paves the way for the rebuilding of the country and [engenders] hope that the formation of the R-TGoNU will permanently silence the guns in South Sudan. We also commend the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for its efforts in supporting the peace process in South Sudan.
As a member and chair of the AU High-Level Ad Hoc Committee on South Sudan, South Africa will continue to ensure that the AU plays its supportive role in the peace process in South Sudan. In addition, Deputy President David Mabuza, in his capacity as President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Special Envoy to South Sudan, working with IGAD Special Envoys, will also continue to support the people of South Sudan to achieve lasting peace and stability.
South Sudan must embark on the required Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) programme. In this regard, the AU and the international community will need to continue to support and accompany the people of South Sudan on their journey to permanent peace, stability and sustainable development, as well as to continue to provide humanitarian assistance.
What does South Africa plan to do regarding the spread of violent extremism in the Sahel region of Africa?
South Africa and the continent are gravely concerned about the spread of terrorism and violent extremism taking place in some regions on the continent.
To firmly address the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism would require close collaboration among AU member states in terms of sharing intelligence information and strengthening early warning mechanisms. It is against this background that the 33rd AU Summit decided to deploy 3 000 troops in order to further degrade terrorist groups in the Sahel region. It is expected that this development will enhance ongoing military efforts dealing with the menace of terrorism and violent extremism.
What will be the agenda during the Extraordinary Summit to Silence the Guns in South Africa in May 2020?
South Africa will host the Extraordinary Summit on Silencing of the Guns on 30 May 2020, where it is expect that the heads of state will have an in-depth discussion on the issues and emerging trends pertaining to peace and security on the continent, as well as review the implementation of the AU Master Roadmap, and expectedly determine a new roadmap on silencing the guns.
What other initiatives is South Africa planning in relation to the theme of the year, ‘Silencing the guns, creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development’?
Firstly, promote and support integration, economic development, trade and investment in the continent.
South Africa will host the Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in May 2020, to adopt legal instruments that will enable trading under the AfCFTA, starting from July 2020. The AfCFTA will enable intra-African trade, reignite industrialisation and pave the way for Africa’s integration into the global economy as a player of considerable scale.
The summit will be held back-to-back with the Extraordinary Summit on Silencing of the Guns.
Considering the multifaceted nature of the drivers of conflict and insecurity, it is believed that the full implementation of the AfCFTA will contribute to the resolution of the conflicts on the continent. The AfCFTA is arguably the single initiative that could potentially set the continent on the path to economic prosperity, taking into account the promising estimated growth projected by economists.
Secondly, drive the implementation of the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative in support of the AfCFTA.
It is a fact that Africa has a huge deficit with regard to infrastructure. President Ramaphosa plans to drive the implementation of the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative and in this regard a High-Level Forum on Infrastructure will be organised in South Africa to help mobilise funding for the identified infrastructure projects on the continent. The success of the AfCFTA depends to a large extent on infrastructure development.
Thirdly, advance women’s economic empowerment and gender equality.
Since the year 2020 coincides with the Decade of African Women, South Africa will use the chairmanship to fight for women’s economic and financial inclusion, for an end to gender-based violence, and to ensure accountability to global gender commitments. South Africa will work closely with President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, in his capacity as the AU champion for gender equality, to ensure that the interests of women are mainstreamed. President Ramaphosa has declared 2020 to 2030 the Decade of African Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion. Two high-level conferences on women’s empowerment and gender equality will be held in South Africa in July/August 2020.
First will be the conference on women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion, and second the Africa conference on violence and sexual harassment leading to the AU Convention on Violence against Women.
Fourthly, President Ramaphosa has taken over the chair of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). The APRM is an important initiative that supports good governance and democracy on the continent. Good governance and democratisation on the continent is quite critical for the prosperity of the people of Africa. 2020 will see over a dozen countries going to the polls. It is hoped that all these elections will be peaceful, free and fair.
In his acceptance speech, President Ramaphosa reaffirmed the desire to have universal accession [to the APRM] by 2030, while at the same time commending those countries that have gone through reviews and congratulating those that have just acceded to the Mechanism.
Finally, South Africa’s international cooperation must extend to the continental effort to address the climate crisis, which has a huge impact on Africa and other developing countries. As chair of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), South Africa will prioritise all three global goals in the Paris Agreement, namely mitigation, adaptation and support. As the chair, we will equally advocate for enhanced resource flows into Africa to address environment and climate change issues facing the continent, including scaled-up support for Africa’s flagship programmes.
What is South Africa’s priority in terms of the AU reform agenda?
As chair of the AU, South Africa will have to monitor the implementation of the AU reform programme and it hopes that the work of the Panel of Eminent African Persons responsible for the pre-selection of the AU Commission’s senior leadership, expected to be elected in February 2021, will proceed smoothly.
South Africa has announced the operationalisation of the AfCFTA as one of its key priorities as chair of the AU. What are the expected opportunities and challenges in this regard?
Opportunities arising from the AfCFTA are immense. The AfCFTA will enable intra-African trade, reignite industrialisation and pave the way for Africa’s integration into the global economy as a player of considerable scale.
The AfCFTA provides the opportunity for Africa to create the world's largest free trade area; to increase intra-African trade in manufactured and other value-added products; to make Africa a single market of 1.2 billion people and with a cumulative GDP over $3.4 trillion. The implementation of the agreement could increase intra-African trade by 52% by 2022.
The political will demonstrated by heads of state as well as member states not only to sign this important agreement but also to ensure that it is entered into force has been an added advantage. The AfCFTA’s strong political backing is evidenced by the speed at which the continent negotiated the agreement.
The process of setting up the Secretariat, in Ghana, has already started with the appointment of the Secretary-General and the expected recruitment process to appoint other officers, approval of the structure and operational budget.
Some challenges do exist, though. Infrastructure development remains a challenge to the operationalisation of the AfCFTA. The poor state of connectivity and development in the areas of Internet, road, railways and airline transport and energy poses a threat to the efficient operationalisation of the AfCFTA. Peace and security challenges present obvious challenges as well.
How can South Africa leverage its non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council (UNSC) in advancing African priorities?
South Africa will continue to work to enhance better cooperation between the UN and the AU based on General Assembly Resolution 61/296 and the joint framework for enhanced partnership in peace and security. The A3 (South Africa, Niger and Tunisia) and the AU Peace and Security Council need to keep a dynamic interaction to advance AU–UN cooperation in critical areas such as peace and security. In this context, South Africa will use these platforms to leverage its membership to the UNSC to advance African priorities, which include resolution of conflicts on the continent, etc.