Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea’s President and new African Union (AU) Chairman, speaks during a news conference at the closing ceremony of the 16th African Union Summit, in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, January 31, 2011. (Thomas Mukoya/Courtesy Reuters)

Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi was elected the African Union Chairman on Sunday, taking over the one-year post from Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, officials said.

“I want to congratulate the new chairman of the African Union… Boni Yayi,” said President Obiang, the outgoing chairman, speaking after the official announcement at the AU summit meeting in the Ethiopian capital.

“I have no doubt that with your great leadership … you will conduct the work of our Union towards our agenda of peace and prosperity. I wish you all success in your efforts,” Obiang added.

President Yayi, an economist who took office six years ago of the small West African nation, said he accepted the post with humility for the “high responsibility.”

“I wish to express my gratitude with respect and appreciation to the heads of state we have here for the confidence they have in my regard,” Yayi said after the vote.

“We shall continue to work hand in glove to ensure that we consolidate all that we have achieved so far,” he added.

Obiang, summing up his year in office, accused “external powers that wish to perpetuate their influence” of manipulating Africa.

“Africa should not remain indifferent to external interference. Africa should not be questioned with regards to democracy, human rights, governance and transparency in public administration,” he declared.

In his remarks to the session, Chairman of the African Union Commission, Dr. Jean Ping said that the 18th summit of the African union comes after a year of political upheavals, citing the post election crisis in Ivory Coast and the popular Arab uprising, saying the events tested the AU commission’s conflict prevention capacity.

“Last year’s events showed the need to strengthen our conflict prevention capabilities, and avoid that outsiders arbitrate Africa’s issues”

President Kagame waters a tree which he planted in memory of the late Prof. Wangari Maathai, a renowned Kenyan environmentalist, at the newly constructed African Union Conference Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

President Paul Kagame, who was attending the second day session, along with other heads of State and Governments, planted trees in memory of the late Prof Wangari Maathai at the newly constructed African Union Conference Centre upon arrival.

Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon, who is attending the Summit for the Sixth time, also acknowledged that the UN was taken by surprise by the recent turmoil experienced in Africa last year.

“The Arab spring took many by surprise; traditional indicators told us these countries were stable or doing well”. He stressed that the popular uprising in North Africa was a message to the world that people’s aspirations for democracy and rule of law cannot be stopped by police violence. The outgoing chairman of the African Union Dr Teodoro OBiang Nguema condemned foreign interference in Africa’s issues.  “Africa should not remain indifferent to foreign interventions that destroy Africa’s social fabric”.

Nguema called on Africans to maintain solidarity against unjust judgment from others, and for the creation of its “own criminal court to stop this indiscriminate decisions by foreigners”

The afternoon session was marked by discussion on the theme “Boosting Intra African Trade”. President Paul Kagame attended the session heading a delegation including Foreign Affairs Minister Mrs. Louise Mushikiwabo and the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Emmanuel Hategeka.

A study done by AU commission, presented at the occasion, indicates that Africa could get additional 34 billion US dollars, annually, through the facilitation of Intra-Africa Trade. Hategeka said that intra African trade remains very low compared to that of other continents.

“Intra-African trade stands at less than 12 percent while intra-Asia trade stands at 52 percent, intra-Europe trade at 72 percent.”  Hategeka said that intra -African trade is kept low by weaknesses in tariff structure as well as by fiscal and Non-fiscal barriers including lack of adequate infrastructures.

The Study by AU commission recommends that African countries deepen integration, establish a free continental trade area, increase infrastructure, trade financing and strengthening the private sector.

Dr Richard Sezibera, EAC Secretary General said: “The benefits of integration are many; it helps in reducing trade barriers, reducing the cost of doing business and creating big markets.

This Monday, President Kagame will be presenting to the session his report on the HLF4 forum held in Busan, South Korea late last year.

Meanwhile, the AU on Saturday afternoon unveiled the China-funded conference center at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

The occasion marks the friendly ties between Africa and China on the one hand and the African solidarity across the continent on the other, Jean Ping, president of the African Union Commission, declared at the inauguration ceremony.

The high-rise project consists of two main buildings, including a tower housing offices with a capacity of 700 and a conference center equipped with facilities for top-level meetings.

The grand hall of the conference boasts a capacity of 2,500, while another meeting hall accommodates 700. In addition, the complex has three VIP salons, four 113-seat meeting halls, eight halls for bilateral meetings, 31 committee meeting rooms each having 25 to 30 seats, one multipurpose hall having 500 seats and capable of receiving 1,000 people, one amphitheater of 1,000 seats and a commercial center.

Outside the complex are beautiful gardens of plants, flowers and local species of trees. “We also run a garden of the Union, where each head of state and government or head of the delegation will plant a tree to signify the preservation of a healthy and clean environment,” Jean Ping said.

A garden of “Tai Hu Shi”, a kind of stone of celebrity in China, is put up to symbolize the friendship between Africa and China. In the southern extreme of the new AU conference center is a helicopter pad for air services.

Additional reporting by Agencies

Source The New Times

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