South Africa will take over the rotational chair of the African Union (AU) in 2020, following on Egypt, which took over the chair of the continental organ on Sunday.
African heads of state formally elected South Africa during a closed session on Sunday morning, ahead of the opening ceremony of the 32nd African Union heads of state summit.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will chair the continental body in 2019, in a move that follows efforts by this country to position itself closer to the rest of Africa.
Egypt was suspended from the continental body in 2013 following a coup d’etat in the country, but accepted back the next year after it held elections.
He takes over from Rwandan president Paul Kagame, who during his year at the helm focused strongly on African Union reforms and free trade by encouraging ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
South Africa’s election to this position will put President Cyril Ramaphosa — in the likely event that he would still be in place after the May 8 general elections — in an important role on the international stage, as South Africa is also a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the next two years.
Ramaphosa has been lobbied by some groups to push for a more human rights-based approach, especially to issues in Africa.
As incoming chair, Ramaphosa will be working closely with Al-Sisi to smooth the transition to next year.
South Africa last chaired the African Union in 2002, when Thabo Mbeki was president, and the last time the Southern African Development Community had a turn at the helm of the AU, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was in the chair.
Eswatini, which was also a strong contender within the southern African bloc for the AU chair, and which has recently spent billions of rands in upgrading its conferencing facilities – is expected to host the AU’s 2020 mid-year gathering. — News24