Tomorrow, July 18, marks the end of the African Union’s 27th summit. Held from July 10-18, the summit drew leaders from across Africa to Kigali, Rwanda. The African Union (AU) is a supranational organization consisting of every African nation except Morocco. It exists to promote cooperation between African states, work towards higher living standards for all Africans, protect the sovereignty of African nations, and integrate the policies of African governments. Like the previous summit, which took place in January, this one continues the theme “African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women.” There were, however, some key differences that made this summit unique.
Like the previous summit, this summit will be shaped by the AU’s Agenda 2063. The Agenda is a document that, since 2013, has served as the guiding vision for the Union. It envisions a future Africa of economic prosperity, political unity, better governance, security, and common cultural identity. Agenda 2063 draws heavily from the ideas of the African Renaissance and Pan-Africanism. The former refers to a flowering of technological and cultural progress from the continent while the latter refers to the development of much stronger political and cultural ties between the countries and peoples of Africa.
One of the most pressing topics covered during the summit was the recent escalation of the conflict in South Sudan. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, met with several African leaders to discuss possible solutions to the crisis. South Sudan, which became the world’s newest nation in 2011, was plunged into a deadly civil war in 2013. Forces loyal to the president battled those loyal to the vice president until a peace deal was reached in August of 2015. Despite the peace deal, violence broke out once again a few weeks ago. With at least 300 killed and thousands having fled their homes, the future of the country is uncertain.
In a significant development in continental integration, the AU used the summit to launch a common passport. The passport has both symbolic and practical purposes. Symbolically, it will encourage the formation of a more unified continental identity and represents the pan-Africanism that is enshrined in Agenda 2063. Practically, it will allow African citizens to travel freely across the continent and will remove barriers to trade between African countries. In doing so, it is hoped that the greater ease of doing business will encourage economic growth.
The AU is composed of an Assembly and a Commission. The Assembly of the AU, which consists of the the heads of state of every AU member, acts as the decision-making body of the organization. The Commission is the Secretariat of the Union, responsible for executive and administrative duties. This summit will see the election of the next chairperson of the AU Commission. Considering the importance of the Commission in running the organization, whoever is chosen as its chairperson will become one of the most influential politicians in the AU.
Last May, several media outlets reported on a rumor that Haiti would join the AU during the next summit. This rumor has been proven false. Haiti, a Caribbean nation founded by slaves in 1802, is already an observer to the AU. Despite its cultural connections to Africa, however, it did not join the AU due to its location across the Atlantic.