Addis, 30 January 2012

The 18th Ordinary AU Heads of State and Government Assembly officially opened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Sunday. The opening session of the AU Heads of State and Government Summit was marked by the handover of chairmanship from Equatorial Guinea’s President Dr. Teodoro Obiang Ngwema to Benin’s President Yayi Boni the President of Benin. The latter was voted AU’s chairman for 2012 on Saturday evening.

President Paul Kagame who is attending the 2 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.

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 shows the need to strengthen our conflict prevention capabilities, and avoid that outsiders arbitrate Africa’s issues”

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 on North Africa was a message to the World that People’s aspirations for democracy and rule of law cannot be stopped by police violence.

Similar to remarks made by Dr. Jean ping, 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”. Ngwema called upon 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 Inter Africa Trade. Emmnanuel Hategeka said that intra African trade remains very low compared to that of other continents.

“Intra African trade stands at less than 12% while intra asia trade stands at 52% , intraeurope trade at 72%.”

Mr. Emmnanuel Hategeka said that intra -African traded is kept low by lack of 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 also present at the session on intra African trade said that he supports the idea of integration “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.