The 5th Ministerial Retreat of AU’s Executive Council

The 5th Ministerial Retreat of the Executive Council of the African Union has been held on Thursday and Friday this week (December 8-9) at the African Union Headquarters, in Addis Ababa. The main objective of the Retreat was to discuss three key issues: Elections, Democracy and Effective and Responsive Governance; Draft Commodities Strategy; and an Update on the Implementation of Agenda 2063 and African Integration. The 5th ministerial retreat is being attended by representatives from all 54 African Union member states. In addition to the Ministers, the President of the African Development Bank, the Executive Secretaries of the UNECA, ACBF and of the Regional Economic Communities and the CEO of NEPAD are also invited, as are the Heads of the AU Organs.

Ethiopia's Foreign Minister, Dr Workneh Gebeyehu welcomed participants at the official opening, noting that: "The vision of our Union that aims to create an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, and indeed the agenda of this retreat, has significant meaning to Ethiopia in particular and Africa in general." He said, "The Ministerial Retreats of the Executive is an important forum towards engagement on the key steps necessary to take forward the continental integration project, the effectiveness of the Union institutions and the implementation of Agenda 2063." He noted that the meeting would also give participants the opportunity to deliberate on how to deepen democratization and good governance in the continent among other issues. The opening statement of the Foreign Minister of Chad, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the  or Executive Council, similarly stressed on the significance of the Retreat and also highlighted the prominence of elections, democratization and good governance as elements to realize the implementation of Agenda 2063.

Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission noted that the
5th Ministerial Retreat of the Executive Council was being held just as the Cuban people had buried Fidel Castro, the father of their modern nation and a friend to many African countries. He had been responsible for building over 10,000 new schools and raising literacy to 98% and creating one of the best and most accessible health care system in the world," she said. The Commission Chairperson said the Executive Council had an important role in monitoring the agenda of the Union, the integration agenda and making recommendations on strategic approaches to take forward this agenda. Recalling the core responsibilities of the Executive Council and the pervious ministerial retreats, she emphasized that the 5th Retreat should again discuss Agenda 2063 progress "since we have now conducted domestication missions in over 30 countries.  We place emphasis on domestication, because it allows for Agenda 2063 and the SDGs to become an integral part of national development plans and budgets of Member states." As far as elections, democracy and effective and responsive governance was concerned, Dr. Dlamini Zuma said over 50 elections had been held in the past four years. The majority had been peaceful and fair with improved election management. In fact, she said, the growing number of mass protests that could be seen across the continent were signs of improved political space, but, at the same time, the violence associated with these protests was worrisome. She also noted the many opportunities and challenges on the global level, and said "Africa must continue to position itself in such a manner that advances its agenda.''

The Ministerial Retreat has also received presentations and discussed the candidates vying for position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission. There are five candidates for the position:  Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and Agapito Mba Mokuy, the Foreign Ministers of Botswana and Equatorial Guinea respectively; Abdoulaye Bathily, the former United Nations Special Envoy for Central Africa and a former Minister of Environmental Affairs and Energy of Senegal ; Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister of Chad; and  along with  Amina Mohamed, the Foreign Minister of Kenya and a former Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Program. The MjadalaAfrika AU leadership debate between the five candidates is being held on Friday at the Old Conference Center of the African Union.

Another important issue being raised during the retreat is the Peace Fund. At the July 2016 summit in Kigali, the Heads of State and Government agreed on a new mechanism to finance the AU and the Peace Fund, namely a 0.2% levy on all imports into African countries, as well as on a new structure for the fund. Also brought to the table for detailed discussion has been implementation of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. The Charter seeks to promote adherence by state parties to the universal values and principles of democracy and respect for human rights. The Retreat is also allowing the ministers to deliberate and exchange views on the envisaged continental commodities strategy. They have also been discussing the implementation of Agenda 2023, and various African Union flagship projects, including the Inga III Hydro power project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Integrated High Speed Train Network, the Pan African ENetwork and the establishment of a virtual university.

The outcomes of the Ministerial Retreat will be submitted to the Ordinary Session of the Executive Council which will be held at the end of next month prior to African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government on 30 and 31 January 2017. The deliberations will contribute to the report of the Executive Council to the Assembly.