It was a united Africa that met under one dome at the 27th African Union (AU) Summit, held from July 10-18 in Kigali, Rwanda.
After a week of mostly closed-door negotiations by the 35 heads of state in attendance, it concluded with the AU setting targets to self-finance its activities by raising $1.2 billion annually.
“It’s a great start, and an achievement for Africa,” said Smail Chergui, the AU’s commissioner for peace and security, to FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.
Some of the other issues debated at the summit were the conflicts in South Sudan, Burundi and Libya.
“We have to be on the side of the people of South Sudan and see how we can find a quick solution to what happened,” said Chergui at the closing media conference.
The AU will also start “drawing down” its troops in Somalia from October 2018, and will devote energies to training the forces and equipping them for daily combat in their own countries. The AU peacekeeping mission has been in Somalia since 2007.
The summit also saw the launch of the much-anticipated African passport. AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma handed representational passports to AU Chairperson and President of Chad Idriss Deby, and to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, at the packed ordinary session of the general assembly inside the dome of the brand-new Kigali Convention Centre (KCC).
The session had started with African music, chorus and drums, even as Africa’s first ladies sat in one colorful row, proudly sporting African fabrics and headwraps representative of their countries.
Kagame said in his opening speech: “Believe in the healing power of unity… Unity is not a feel-good slogan but a tool to unite in Africa.”
Deby too added: “For the first time since the inception of the AU, the continent decided to take the union in its own hands, and contribute financially for peace, stability and crises… It’s a gigantic step.”
The pan-African passport is expected to facilitate the mobility of Africans and ease inter-country trade, although full details of when ordinary Africans will benefit from them are yet to emerge.
Another highlight of the summit was to be the election of the next chairperson of the AU Commission. The results were to be announced on the last day after voting, but none of the three candidates, Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Uganda’s former Vice President Specioza Kazibwe and Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Affairs Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy, managed to secure the two-thirds majority to win.
The elections are now postponed for January next year. Dlamini-Zuma will continue in her role until then.
Venson-Moitoi, 65, who spoke to FORBES WOMAN AFRICA before the results, said she had been campaigning for the elections since March, had given it “her best shot”, and if elected, was looking forward to working hard and continuing the good work, “bringing a different outlook”.
She is one of two women proposed for the post. Are women better at the job?
We asked Prof. Vincent O. Nmehielle, Legal Counsel & Director for Legal Affairs of the AU Commission on his way out of a media briefing.
“I can tell you women are quite resilient and very kind in terms of what they want to see with regards to the continent. And when you become the chairperson of the African Union, there is a tendency to feel you are a mother to the continent, so you want to handle the continent with care,” he said.
The theme of the summit was Human rights, Women’s rights; at the closing ceremony where countries were given awards for promoting the gender cause, Dlamini-Zuma handed Kagame – to a rousing applause – the award for political rights for women. Globally, Rwanda has the highest participation of women in Parliament, at a staggering 64%.
But with a number of competing issues, did women’s issues receive its due airtime?
“It was sufficiently discussed,” said Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, the AU’s Director of Women and Gender, at the final press conference.
“The discussions don’t end here and will go on, it will take on new dimensions… The media must work with us to get the message out.”
Diane Gashumba, Rwanda’s Minister of Gender and Family, said 17 ministers of gender attended the summit from various African countries.
“We did a lot, but when you look at all the policies in place supporting gender, we still have a long way to go. We have to keep sensitizing [women] to dream big about owning big enterprises,” said Gashumba.
At the session of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta made an impassioned plea to combat HIV/AIDS.
For a country that already won praise for hosting the 2016 World Economic Forum on Africa in May, the AU summit proved to be another milestone for Rwanda, which is now aiming to be Africa’s leading MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) destination.
“We have confidence in the contribution of MICE events as a way to diversify the purpose of visitors coming to Rwanda,” says Francis Gatare, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
It’s expected to boost the country’s services sector, which currently contributes to 49% of the economy.
“The services sector is expected to rise to 50% of our economy in the next two to three years. Over the last 10 years, we have seen all forms of service industry [banking to tourism] emerge and take prominence,” says Gatare.
This is where the KCC will have a starring role. Gatare says the most important dimension of the tech-savvy convention center is its location.
“Located at the entrance of the city coming from the airport, this represents a unique intersection of government ministries on one side and the central business district on the other, while it’s also adjacent to one of the most sought-after residential areas. So, all civic communities, businesses and governments come together here.”
Its design is inspired by Rwanda’s Agaseki baskets, and is also representative of the country’s traditional homes.
“When Rwandans see it [the KCC], they see their home, they see their treasure, they also see their identity,” says Gatare.
The success of any country is reflected in the success and growth of its national airline. In September, the country’s flagship carrier RwandAir will be launching direct flights to Mumbai in India and Guangzhou in China, receiving two brand-new Airbus A330s fitted with lie-flat seats in business class; the aircraft will also have a premium economy cabin, a concept new to most airlines in Africa.
RwandAir is expected to launch flights to New York, Paris and London in the next two years, says John Mirenge, the airline’s head, on the sidelines of the summit. And all new planes will be fitted with wifi onboard as a standard.
Wifi is what most business travelers to Kigali compliment the city for; from the 295-room Radisson Blue by the KCC to the mint-fresh Marriott, close to the stately Serena hotel, and even in the smaller hotels, this is evident.
Overall, the summit proved to be a success for the host country, especially the $300 million KCC, Rwanda’s new focal point vying with the hills.
The KCC, so new it literally still smells of paint, stole the show with its nightly light displays featuring the colors of the Rwandan flag that presented many picture opportunities.
Madeleine Mukamabano, a Paris-based journalist who has been covering AU summits for years, called the Kigali edition the “first truly African summit that was without foreign influences”.