As we mark the end of the year 2020, we also mark the end of one of the most extraordinary and challenging years in living memory. From the first recorded case of Covid-19 on the Continent on 14 February 2020, Member States through a coordinated Continental strategy, have shown singular resilience.
But the pandemic has shown similar resilience, proving that the challenging task of protecting our health and livelihoods, while ensuring recovery of our economies, still lies ahead as we begin a new year.
But it is important to look back to the journey that was 2020. The Union’s Continental Response, coordinated by the AU technical agency tasked with supporting Member States with Preparedness, Response and Recovery from public health emergencies, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (AfricaCDC), kicked in early and fast.
The strong and sustained leadership by South African President HE Cyril Ramaphosa and Chair of the Union for 2020, together with the AU Bureau of Heads of States and Government, helped us avoid devastating effects that were seen elsewhere in the world during the year.
In April, I launched the Partnership for Accelerated COVID-19 Testing (PACT) Initiative, which through AfricaCDC, has facilitated for Member States to conduct over 22 million test to date. We also set up the AU COVID-19 Response Fund, a public-private solidarity fund to mobilize funds for the urgent response needs of Member States.
Complementary to these efforts, are the AU Envoys appointed by the Chair of the Union to mobilize international support for Africa’s efforts to address the economic challenges faced by our economies as a result of the negative impacts of the pandemic.
Using the AU-led pooled procurement platform, the AU also negotiated the procurement of urgently needed medical supplies worth more than 25 million dollars for Member States to date.
Furthermore, the AU established the AU COVID-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to work towards supporting Member States to ensure equitable, affordable and timely access to vaccines and therapeutics for the Continent. This and other initiatives form part of the Continental Response.
Like all organizations worldwide, the pandemic caused serious disruptions to the way we conduct business, but the African Union has adapted to the new normal and continues to implement its projects, in line with Agenda 2063
Regarding the 2020 Theme of the Year “Silencing the Guns:Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”, efforts were deployed towards the inculcation of a culture of peace and conducive conditions for a conflict-free continent.
While much has been achieved, a lot more remains to be done. Accordingly, Member States adopted a decision to extend the implementation road map for Silencing the Guns to 2030, during an Extraordinary Summit, held virtually on 6 December 2020.
2020 also witnessed progress in a number of key projects, including the approval of the new AU Commission operational structure in line with the institutional reform agenda of the Union, and the operationalization of the AfCFTA Secretariat in Accra, Ghana, in anticipation of the launch of trading for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in January 2021.
I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank all the staff members of the Commission, who continued to work, under very difficult conditions imposed by the COVID19 pandemic, to ensure that the Commission continued to meet its objectives for 2020.
During this time, some collegues fell ill with the Covid19 virus, and here I wish to salute the Medical Services team who were the frontline workers, working tirelessly and heroically for all the staff members and the African diplomatic corps based in Addis Ababa. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. We also remember those we lost this year, and pray that their memory remain a blessing for us all.
As you may be aware, the AU annual theme for 2021 is The Year of the Arts, Culture And Heritage; Levers for Building the Africa We Want”. This is in recognition of the important role played by the creative and cultural industries in attaining the development objectives of Agenda 2063.
Lastly, I would like to thank the outgoing Commission for their commitment to delivering the mandate of the Union and offering themselves in service to Africa, and look forward to a new Commission that assume office in 2021.