ADDIS ABABA, The 24th African Union (AU) summit kicked off Friday in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa with calls for the continent to boost gender equality and regional development.
Delegates from over 50 member states of the Pan-African bloc and international organizations are expected to exchange views on women’s empowerment and seek ways to promote sustainable development during the two-day biannual event.
“We should be aware of the new threats of terrorism, insecurity and climate change to the African continent. The senseless killings, destruction of property and enslavement are threats to our collective security and development,” AU’s Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said at the opening ceremony.
New conflicts in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Libya, Mali and Democratic Republic of Congo were highlighted during the opening ceremony of the African leaders’ summit.
“It is imperative for us to deny space to elements bent on destroying the lives and prospects of Africans,” Zuma told leaders.
She added that the establishment of democratic, tolerant and accountable institutions will avert civil strife and accelerate economic growth.
The AU heads of state summit focused on women’s empowerment as an entry point to achieve Africa’s Agenda 2063 vision of socioeconomic renaissance.
Leaders agreed that gender equality underpinned Africa’s sustainable development.
“We shall take our continental agenda on women empowerment to a new level this year. Special attention will be given to the girl child by ensuring they remain in school, are freed from early marriages and genital mutilation,” Zuma said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in his key note address urged African leaders to prioritize the fight against terrorism, insecurity, poverty and Ebola.
He decried conflicts in a number of countries and proposed continental interventions to achieve lasting peace, security and stability.
“I am encouraged by progress towards the establishment of an African Standby Force and homegrown capacity to respond to crises. I urge you to make these mechanisms operational,” Ban said.
He said the international community will support African countries’ quest for peace, stability and sustainable development.
Ban said that 2015 is a critical year for Africa as the global community designed a new framework for sustainable development and signed a binding climate treaty.
He stressed that women’s empowerment dovetails with Africa’s long-term vision of prosperity and renewal.
Also at the opening session, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe took the rotating chairmanship of the pan-African bloc.
Mugabe took over from Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was elected AU Chairman at the 22nd AU summit in January 2014.
The theme of this year’s gathering is “2015 Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.”