The 34th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) kicked off virtually on Saturday amid COVID-19 concerns and a joint commitment in the fight against the pandemic.
The AU summit is being under the theme of “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want.”
The assembly, among other things, is expected to deliberate and consider the report on the institutional reform of the AU, report on the progress of the AU response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, as well as elections and appointments of the leadership of the AU Commission.
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa who is also the outgoing Chairperson of the AU, told the virtual opening session that the decision to hold the 34th Ordinary Session as a virtual meeting instead of a physical gathering “was based on an assessment by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) of the risks of holding a physical gathering of this nature at this time.”
“As a continent, and as a global community, we are engaged in an unprecedented struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ramaphosa said, adding this disease has caused great suffering and hardship across the continent.
“It is not only a severe health emergency; it is also a grave economic and social crisis,” the South African President said, as he emphasized that the pandemic deepened global inequality and threatens to set back progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission, also stressed that the 34th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU is being held in a very special context.
“First, there is COVID-19, which has had an unprecedented impact on the normal functioning of all the Organs of the Union, which forces us to this virtual meeting, far from the warmth of the physical meeting to which we are used,” he told the virtual gathering.
He also emphasized the importance of the ongoing session, which coincides with the end of the four-year term of the current AU Commission administration.
African heads of states and governments are also expected to elect new AU Commission officials, including the chairperson and deputy chairperson of the Commission as well as commissioners who will be serving a four-year term.
African leaders had during the 28th AU Summit that was held in January 2017 in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia elected Chadian diplomat Moussa Faki Mahamat, and Ghanaian diplomat Thomas Kwesi Quartey, as Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the AU Commission.
During the two-day 34th AU Summit, the Democratic Republic of the Congo will officially take over the rotating chair of the continental bloc from South Africa, according to the AU.