Ramaphosa should work hard to end conflicts, push Africa forward

President Uhuru Kenyatta with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in East London, South Africa.
The election of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as the AU chairman gives hope that finally, the organisation will rise to the challenges confronting the world's poorest continent.

He took over from Egyptian President Fattah el-Sisi in yearly caucus that brings together heads of states and governments of the 55 states that make up the African Union.

This year’s meeting came as the continent struggled to quell rising conflicts that imperil its growth and progress.

It also came against the backdrop of reports of widespread hunger across the continent. Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates nearly a quarter of Africa’s 1.2 billion people suffer from poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Also, Africa must confront the threat from extremist groups and how poverty and food insecurity has contributed to the bad situation.

Agreeably, a lot of what has held back the continent are man-made causes. For example, despite being left behind, flying across Africa is tedious, expensive and time-consuming; generally, a traveller’s nightmare. Flight connections are unreliable and few. Africa needs to open up its air spaces and borders if only to promote regional integration.

For Africa remains a continent of contrasts; want and surplus exist side by side.

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The death of former President Daniel Moi casts a long shadow on the AU. He was chairman of AU’s precursor OAU in 1981. The drive for regional peace and stability remains Moi’s hallmarks. The theme for the year; 'Silencing the guns' is apt and represents in many ways his legacy. Additionally, the chorus calling for homegrown solutions for Africa’s problems remains just in words.

Libya, once one of the most promising and stable countries on the continent, is in ruins, ripped apart by factional fights after former strongman Muammar Gaddafi was deposed in 2011.

The AU leadership agree that Libya is an example of how outside intervention and the resource curse has fuelled a cycle of death and destruction.

The UN has been running the show in Libya with little to show after nearly 10 years. Ramaphosa must ensure that the AU plays a bigger role in efforts to find peaceful settlement across the continent.

Yet Africa’s outlook is not all doom and gloom. The narrative of Africa rising is still alive. Whereas in some places the masses exist in conditions worse than those when they fought colonialists, others are breaking away. Ethiopia, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are promising examples of how a mix of rural-focused development and governance reforms are paying off. More should replicate them.

Ramaphosa has his work cut out. He needs to deepen the governance reforms, fundraise for key projects like infrastructure, peace-keeping and agriculture. He ought to ensure African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is ratified by as many countries as possible before it becomes operational in July. No doubt, AfCFTA will play a key role in industrialisation by giving Africa weight and scale in global trade.

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South African President Cyril RamaphosaAU chairmanFattah el-Sisi