Reforms Are About Africa's Interests and Dignity - Kagame

President Paul Kagame has said that the business as usual approach by the African Union has to change as the continent seeks transformation.

President Kagame was speaking in Nouakchott, Mauritania as he chaired the the 31st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union which opened on Sunday.

Kagame noted that there is progress in a number of aspects in regard to the ongoing reforms which aim to improve the effectiveness of the institution.

"The future we have been preparing for is already upon us. The institutional and financial reform of our Union has always been about the capacity to secure Africa's interests and our dignity. The business-as-usual approach cannot continue and indeed, as we are seeing, significant changes are beginning to take hold," the African Union Chair told the summit.

The President noted that a transformed Africa ought to be characterised by visible unity and cooperation.

"Our partners are receptive to Africa's viewpoint, but it is essential that we speak with one voice. Respect for African Union decisions makes us more formidable and protects individual countries from pressure and manipulation," he said.

Among the partners in support of the process include the European Union on a range of issues facing the two blocs.

Other progress made in the course of the year is with regard to the bloc's financing.

In pursuit of reduced dependency and increased efficiency, the 2019 budget was decreased significantly.

"The 2019 budget presented to the Assembly for consideration has even been reduced by 12 per cent compared to 2018. At the same time contributions to the Peace Fund have never been higher," the President told the summit.

Owing to the reforms and improvement in finances, he said that the African Union is in a better position towards the setup of long term partnership with the United Nations Security Council towards funding peacekeeping operation in Africa.

The AU chair also welcomed the positive strides in normalization of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia and pledged the AU's support in the process.

On behalf of the AU, he expressed support of the peaceful political transition in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe and condemned violent attacks witnessed in the two nations as well as terrorist attacks in other nations.

"I also wish to acknowledge the encouraging steps in the South Sudan peace process thanks to the mediation of the IGAD-mandated Heads of State. The African Union expects the parties to fully abide by the agreements. These positive developments remind us that partnership is the common thread in this Summit's deliberations. Partnership amongst ourselves first of all," Kagame said.

Among the items on the agenda at the summit include an update of the African Union reforms process which is spearheaded by President Kagame.

The summit will also look into ways to end violence and conflict in different parts of the continent, including in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali, western Cameroon, and Western Sahara.

A key achievement of the summit is the increase in the number of signatures of the African Continental Free Trade Area with the ratification of eSwatini and Chad.

"The Continental Free Trade Agreement, championed by President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, is among the most historic achievements of the African Union," Kagame later said during the presentation of his report on the AU Reforms.

"It is going to become a reality before much longer...In a deeper sense, an African Union capable of delivering a functional free trade area is actually the end point of the reform," the President added. – The new Times