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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 15 October 2012— The African Union Commission (AUC) will seek to define and build a path that draws the continent from poverty to development, said Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at her installation as the Commission’s Chairperson today.

The Commission is to take pro-active steps to support member states and regional bodies in their efforts to promote, consolidate and expand citizen-centered, developmental and democratic governance, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma said. This is in line with the AU’s vision of achieving a prosperous, peaceful and integrated continent. In pursuing this African agenda, the Commission will take into account the shared values of consistent political and democratic freedom, and the development and modernization of African productive forces.

Among the Commission’s priority areas, as outlined by its Chairperson, will be health and education, gender equality, youth development, peace, security and stability in Africa, food security, exploitation of natural resources, development of infrastructure, the promotion of intra-African trade, building the AU’s capacity to deliver efficiently and effectively, and consolidating relationships with key partners.

Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, who became the first woman ever to lead the Commission, told hundreds of delegates and members of the diplomatic corps that Africa has witnessed phenomenal progress in the past 20 years, in socio-political and economic terms. However, she said the long walk to achieving the AU vision had not ended and there were many hills still to climb.

Priority areas

Health and education

Maternal and infant mortality remain unacceptably high in Africa, she said. The Commission will endeavour to reduce, if not eliminate, maternal mortality so that children have a fighting chance to reach their full potential and also that mothers get the chance to contribute fully to their families, societies, nations and the continent.

Decade of African Women

The Commission will accelerate implementation of programmes related to the African Women’s Decade to realize gender equality and to ensure that women, who constitute slightly more than 50 per cent of the African population, are brought into the mainstream of decision-making processes and structures at all levels of society.

Youth development and education

The Commission views young people as an invaluable asset. In this regard, it will seek to harness the energy, resourcefulness and enthusiasm of young people so that they contribute positively to their societies, nations and the continent. Priority will be given to education, training and employment, particularly of young people, women and girls.

Peace and security a pre-requisite for peace and development

UNFPA Africa Regional Director Bunmi Makinwa in discussion with the new AUC chair, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the conference in Addis Ababa.

Peace, security and stability are a pre-requisite for development and good governance, she said. Resolving conflicts such as those in Mali and the Sahel region, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region, and in Guinea Bissau, would be a priority for the Commission. The Commission would also continue to provide the necessary support to Sudan and South Sudan in finalizing the outstanding issues between them. The AUC would be actively involved in post-conflict reconstruction and development.

Food security and mineral resources

Africa has one quarter of the world’s arable land and land is a source of livelihood for 70 per cent of the population. Yet the continent generates only 10 per cent of the global agricultural output. The African Union would therefore put maximum effort into implementing the provisions of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) so that Africa can feed itself and have more to export. In terms of mineral resources, the Commission would push for exploitation of these resources so that they benefit African people, she said.

Infrastructural development, integration and intra-African trade

The development of infrastructure and connectivity between the different African member states is key to Africa’s integration efforts, to facilitate people-to-people relations and to facilitate intra-African trade.

Institutional capacity building

As the AU Commission undertakes to achieve all its priority areas, it must also build its capacity so as to be equal to the task. More will be done to build on improvements already made, she said.

Consolidating African unity

The Commission will pursue the goal of unity for all Africans in the realization that, working as one, the continent’s total population of one billion people holds greater weight globally and can achieve much more than individual African states.

The Commission, in pursuing all its objectives, will be informed by experiences learnt over the last fifty years – the time when the Organization of African Unity was formed. It will take the opportunity of the 50th anniversary of the OAU in 2013 to reflect on where the continent has come from and plan for the next 50 years. In discharging its functions, the Commission will work with member states, Regional Economic Communities, the United Nations, the African Development Bank and its other partners, she said. 

The AUC is the secretariat of the African Union. The event was presided over by the Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi, President of the Republic of Benin, in the presence of Mr. Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

The Commission’s outgoing Chairperson, Dr. Jean Ping, officially handed over the symbols of the African Union to Dr. Dlamini-Zuma. “I am giving way to a great lady. I am confident the affairs of the continent are in safe hands,” Dr. Ping said during the handover ceremony. The Commission’s Deputy Chairperson, Erastus Mwencha, incoming and outgoing Commissioners, ambassadors, development partners and AUC staff members attended the ceremony.