THEME: “AFRICAN UNION: ACHIEVEMENTS, CHALLENGES AND
Today, 9th September, 2018 the African Union Day is being celebrated throughout the African continent and the Diaspora. This is indeed a special occasion to collectively reflect upon and celebrate the successes of our continental organisation as well as analyse the challenges facing the African Union as we strive to achieve the objectives of AGENDA 2063 - the blueprint for the long-term development vision of the African continent anchored on our pan-African aspirations for a fully integrated, developed, prosperous and peaceful African continent.
My address today will therefore focus on the achievements that have been registered since the African Union evolved from its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity; the role that the Gambia has played and continues to play in the attainment of continental goals and the challenges that need to be addressed if we are to overcome the constraints and impediments in the realisation of our noble goals and objectives towards making Africa a force to be reckoned with in the comity of nations, both politically and economically.
It was in pursuit of these noble aspirations that the Organisation of African Unity was transformed into the African Union. This evolution would ensure that the African Union has the legal, administrative and political impetuses of fast-track the implementation of the integration and development agendas of the African continent. Accordingly, the Constitutive Act that has been adopted by Member States, Including The Gambia, reaffirms the continents quest for democratisation, gender empowerment, good governance and accountability, preventive diplomacy, peaceful resolution of conflicts and full participation of all Africans, including those in the Diaspora in the political, financial and economic governance of the African continent.
As I mentioned earlier, the African Union blueprint for long term development has been enshrined in the document entitled AGENDA 2063. Since its adoption in 2015, all the integration and development programmes of the African Union are synchronised towards achieving its goals, which includes the following:
1. A prosperous African based on inclusive growth and sustainable development
2. An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance
3. An African of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law
4. A peaceful and secure Africa
5. An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics
6. An Africa whose development is people -driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children
7. Africa as a strong, united and influential global player and partner
These are the seven principal aspirations of AGENDA 2063 and several programmes have been designed to actualise them. Amongst them is the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement which was signed by the majority of the Member States of the African Union including The Gambia at the 10th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union held in March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda. The Agreement is an important mechanism for the full financial and commercial integration of the African continent. It is a fact that financial and commercial integration of the African continent cannot be attained if there are restrictions on the movement of peoples and goods within Africa. Therefore free and unhindered mobility of African citizens within the continent is indispensable to the realisation of the objectives of the Free Trade Area. It was for this reason that the Kigali Extraordinary Summit also adopted the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment as a clear expression of intent in instituting a regime of freer mobility of peoples and goods throughout the continent. The Gambia government is working on the processes to ensure that the necessary actions and policies are put in place for the implementation of the Protocol.
In the same vein, the African Union is spearheading a move towards greater integration in infrastructural cooperation and development in road, maritime and air transportation. With regards to the latter I would like to highlight the launching in January this year of the Single African Air Transport Market. This initiative is expected to accelerate the momentum in decreasing the legal, financial and infrastructural bottlenecks to a fully developed and integrated African aviation sector. A liberalised aviation industry will make air travel more efficient and reduce cost of airfares which would be a boost toward the desired goal of economic and commercial integration of the continent. The Gambia will seek to harness its strategic location in West Africa by taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by the Single African Air Transport Market.
Sustainable peace on the African continent is an important pillar to realising the goals of Agenda 2063. Through the African Peace and Security Architecture and other important initiatives such as “Silencing the Guns by 2020” and the African Union Amnesty Month, the sustainable peace agenda of the African continent is being pursued rigorously. The African Union is also playing an important coordinating role to ensure that the peace initiatives of the Regional Economic Communities and other Ad-hoc mechanisms are successful.
I will now turn to the relations between The Gambia and the African Union and the important role we continue to play in the continental body. For The Gambia, the African Union is a strategic partner in our foreign policy posture and orientation. We continue to be unswervingly committed to the ideals of the Union and shall strive to contribute towards achieving the goals and aspirations of the African Union. In return The Gambia has received and benefited from the strong support of the African Union during the political impasse of 2016 that threatened to usurp the democratic will of the Gambian people expressed in a free and fair electoral process. Through the support of the African Union and other institutions, the Gambian people were made the rightful and sovereign arbitrator of their political destiny.
In the “New Gambia”, the African Union continues to provide valuable support to the Gambia government’s reform programmes. A team of African Experts will soon be dispatched to the country for a period of 12 months to provide technical support to the reform programmes of government in the security and judicial sectors.
The Gambia continues to be the proud host to one of the key organs of the African Union in the promotion of good governance, accountability, respect for rule of law and human rights. The location of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in The Gambia is something that we take pride in because it is a manifestation of our democratic credentials and commitments to the respect for the human rights of our citizens and of peoples all over the world. The Gambia Government will continue to provide the right environment that will enable the Commission to be successful in the execution of its important mandate. Efforts will be intensified to implement the construction of a permanent headquarters for the Commission with adequate facilities and amenities commensurate with its status as an important institution of the African Union.
The Gambia has been actively participating in the efforts toward a peaceful, fully integrated and developed African Union. We continue to participate in AU sessions and make robust and meaningful contributions at various platforms, be it at the level of Permanent Representatives Committee, the Executive Council or the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union. At the last Ordinary Session of the Assembly held in Nouakchott, Mauritania and before that at the Extraordinary Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, His Excellency President Adama Barrow made several interventions on various agenda items. His statements were delivered in a considered and dignified manner and received genuine acclamations from his colleagues. President Barrow also had bilateral meetings with other Heads of State and Government thereby raising the diplomatic profile of The Gambia to a higher pedestal.
As a manifestation of this trend, The Gambia will be hosting in 2019 the 3rd Ordinary Session of the Ministerial Session of the Specialized Technical Committee on Migration, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Fifty-five (55) African ministers are expected in The Gambia to discuss the way forward in fully implementing the migration agenda of the African continent and the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons. This Ministerial Meeting will be held at a moment when the African Union Theme of the Year for 2019 is “The Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”. As a consequence, efforts will be made to ensure that the outcomes of this Ministerial Meeting significantly influence the trajectory of the implementation of the 2019 Theme of the Year.
The Gambia currently chairs the Policy Sub-Committee on the Special Emergency Fund on Drought and Famine. This Sub-committee has the important mandate of giving financial support to African countries that are affected by drought and famine. Important activities are envisaged under the aegis of this Sub-Committee that would improve the versatility of the African Union in addressing both the causes and the effects of drought and famine on the African continent.
The Gambia is widely recognised as an important troop contributing nation in the maintenance of pace and security in Africa. Our gallant men and women continue to demonstrate selfless sacrifice and valor in the discharge of their duties in the various theatres of peace support operations on the African continent.
At the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa and other cities in the African continent where the African Union has institutions and offices, I would like to acknowledge and recognize the immense contributions of Gambian nationals working with AU are making to the achievements of the Union. As a government and a nation we are always proud and delighted to witness the moments when their professionalism is recognised and validated.
I have highlighted the achievements and successes of the African Union since it was established and made reference to the contributions made by The Gambia in these endeavors. I have also mentioned the aspirations of our leaders and peoples to transform Africa into a powerful, peaceful and economically integrated continent. These aspirations are encapsulated in agenda 2063 which some cynics and ill-informed observers have called mere slogans. Far from sloganeering, the agenda 2063 blueprint is a well worked out document predicated on sober and objective analysis of the problems of our continent. Its adoption and the drive to implement the policies and programmes enshrined therein demonstrate the commitment and determination of our countries and peoples to build the “Africa we want.”