The opening ceremony of the 19th Ordinary Session of the African Union Heads of States and Governments was held in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, on Sunday.
African leaders who spoke during the ceremony called for unity in the face of an election which threatens to polarise the 53-member organisation.
The race between South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and incumbent, Dr. Jean Ping for the leadership of the AU Commission has taken the shine off the summit which was originally designed to improve intra-African trade.
Meanwhile, the absence of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has dampened the spirits of nations especially those within the Economic Community of West African States who support the incumbent AU Chairperson, Jean Ping.
Leaders of ECOWAS who are promoting the candidature of Ping twice failed to meet when it became apparent that President Goodluck Jonathan will not be at the summit.
Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the AU, Amb. Peter Lolo, told reporters some people view the President’s absence as “a (moral) dampener” for Ping’s campaign.
He, however, said Nigeria was ready to support who ever emerges at the end of the contest which is expected to produce a winner on Monday (today).
AU leaders are expected to elect a new Chairperson for the AU Commission during the summit.
The AU Chairman, President Boni Yayi of the Republic of Benin in his welcome address, called on his colleagues to resolve the election impasse.
This, Yayi said, was necessary to save the continent from international ridicule.
He said the world was watching to see how the stalemate would be resolved.
Yayi who spoke in French said, “this summit provides another opportunity for us to resolve this issue” noting that, the international community is watching us.”
He advised that the matter be handled in such a way that the union will not be fractured in the end.
In his address the newly inaugurated President of Egypt, Dr. Mohammed Morsi said, Africa had the ability to solve all its political and security problems and bring about the resolution of issues of common concern.
According to him, this included establishing strong and healthy relations between Sudan and South Sudan, putting an end to the conflict in Somalia, restoring stability to Mali and Guinea Bissau.
Morsi said, “In this context, we also look forward to doing our best, within this summit, towards electing the chairperson and members of the AU Commission on the basis of consensus among African countries.
“The urgent challenges facing our continent make it incumbent upon us to accelerate the process of electing for our organisation a commission trusted by all African countries and capable of playing its prescribed role wisely and efficiently in the coming period.”
The Egyptian leader pledged his country’s willingness to support and promote intra-African trade through the establishment of an African free trade zone.
This, he said, has become indispensable for realising regional economic integration in Africa vis-à-vis the challenges facing the continent within the world economic system.
Also speaking at the event, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Eliasson said his work with several African leaders over the years had exposed him to the challenges as well as opportunities on the continent.
He said, “During these years, I saw with my own eyes how war and starvation ravage society and degrade human existence.