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AU Summit to focus on faltering trade, armed conflict & food crisis

By Khulile Thwala

The annual African Union (AU) Summit, which will be attended by Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini, is aiming to jumpstart a faltering trade deal while also focusing on the continent’s most pressing challenges, which include armed conflict and a worsening food crisis.

The AU has indicated that as the continent reels from a record drought in the Horn of Africa, also known as the Somali Peninsula, and deadly violence in the Sahel region and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the two-day AU meeting in Ethiopia will look to address these issues and accelerate a free-trade pact launched in 2020.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is billed as the biggest in the world in terms of population, gathering 54 of 55 African countries, with Eritrea the only holdout.

African nations currently trade only about 15 per cent of their goods and services with each other, and the AfCFTA aims to boost that by 60 per cent by 2034 with the elimination of almost all tariffs.

Africanews reports that implementation, however, has fallen well short of that goal, running into hurdles including disagreements over tariff reductions and border closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the summit’s sessions will be held behind closed doors at AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.

The main focus of the summit will be on trying to achieve ceasefires in the Sahel and the eastern DRC where the M23 armed group has seized swaths of territory and sparked a diplomatic dispute between Kinshasa and Rwanda, which is accused of backing the rebels.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Africa needed “action for peace” to combat rising violence and promote democratic freedoms on the continent.

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