President Cyril Ramaphosa has reflected on South Africa’s year at the helm of the African Union.The Covid-19 pandemic made the year challenging, but he said it was an honour to lead.He said the AU came together to devise an African response.President Cyril Ramaphosa has described South Africa’s year at the helm of the African Union (AU) as a “baptism of fire”, but added that “this time of trial and difficulty has been among the AU’s finest hours”.

In his newsletter “From the Desk of the President” on Monday, he wrote:

In the hot-house of the Covid-19 crisis, the seeds of unity and cooperation planted by our pioneering forebears have come to life and flourished.

Ramaphosa said instead of solely relying on the international community to come to its aid, the continent came together to help each other, as most countries on the continent did not have the resources needed to meet the public health challenge or to protect their economies.

Several prominent Africans were appointed as special envoys to engage with international funders and multilateral institutions to make the case for financial support and debt relief on Africa’s behalf.

“In this way, working as one continent, we were able to achieve debt relief for many countries and financial assistance towards our Covid response and economic recovery,” he said.

To date, there have been more than 3.5 million confirmed Covid-19 infections on the continent and more than 88 000 recorded deaths.

Ramaphosa said the continent had drawn principally on its “own expertise, capabilities and institutions such as the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC)”.

He added:

Africa did not sit by passively as the true extent and danger of the pandemic unfurled.

Equitable, affordable

The AU also established and capitalised a Covid-19 Response Fund and the African Medical Supplies Platform to “quickly secure personal protective equipment and other medical supplies in an equitable, affordable manner”.

Referring to the vaccines, he said “we have worked as a collective to ensure that the continent gets its fair share, working with the [World Health Organisation’s] Covax facility and led by our own African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team”.

He said the vaccine rollout had started in Africa and the aim was to have the “majority of the continent’s population vaccinated by the end of 2021 to achieve herd immunity”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa

South Africa took up the AU chair in February 2020, the same month that the first coronavirus infections were reported on the continent.

Ramaphosa also looked back on other achievements in the past year. Under South Africa’s tenure, the African Continental Free Trade Area was launched, “heralding a new era of intra-African trade and economic integration”, he said.

Despite the pandemic, the continent also pushed ahead with its aim of silencing the guns. Last year, a ceasefire was achieved in Libya, while progress was made towards peace in South Sudan – two goals South Africa set out to achieve at the beginning of its tenure.

The AU was also actively involved in negotiations around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Ramaphosa wrote.

He made no mention of new and continuing conflicts, like the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and attacks in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province.

Ramaphosa said South Africa was “honoured to have been given the opportunity to lead the organisation through this period, when it practically demonstrated the true meaning of the words African Union”.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, led by President Felix Tshisekedi, is expected to take over the AU chair this weekend during the annual AU heads of state summit.