African Union Must Be More Independent Says Ping

African Union Chairman Jean Ping

The year 2011 was a year of trials and tribulations marked by many political and humanitarian crises, said African Union Chairman Jean Ping as he opened the African Union high-level summit of heads of state on Sunday in the Ethiopian capital.

He stressed that the AU needs to stand on its own two feet.

“We need a stronger union, capable to promote our vision and translate into concrete action,” said Jean Ping, in his opening address at the new African Union conference building in Addis Ababa.

“Our union cannot continue to depend overwhelmingly on extra-budgetary resources provided by international partners in order to implement its program,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon gave an uncharacteristically strong speech, even remarking on the differences between the UN and AU during the year that began with Cote d’Ivoire’s political presidential crisis, saying that the UN “stood firm for democracy”.

“Let us speak plainly. There were differences in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya. These were not differences of objectives or goals; our partnership is anchored in shared values,” said Ban. “These were differences in operational and strategic approaches,” he added.

Chinese senior political advisor Jia Qinglin said that Chinese money given or lent to African countries did not come with strings attached, as he announced aid to the tune of 72 million euros to the African Union over the next three years.

Chinese President Hu Jintao had been expected to come to the inauguration ceremony and to attend the summit.

This year’s event is being held in the newly-inaugurated African Union conference centre, a gift from China. The 151 million euro structure stands on the spot of a notorious Ethiopian prison.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib said his country is “endeavouring for peace and security on our continent,” during the speeches.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also spoke of discrimination against homosexuals, an issue he has brought up before, but not before African heads of state.

“Let me mention one form of discrimination that has been ignored or even sanctioned by many States for far too long-discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said.

“This has prompted some governments to treat people as second-class citizens, or even criminals. Confronting this discrimination is a challenge. But we must live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights],” he said.

Homosexuality is illegal in 36 African countries, according to a May 2011 report by the International Lesbian and Gay Association. While homosexual acts are punishable by the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and some parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

After the speeches, Benin President Boni Yayi was escorted to the AU’s presidential seat after being elected to replace Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang as the head of the Assembly. West Africa was slated to take the presidential seat. Gambia dropped out of the race earlier this week, but Nigeria was reportedly in contention for the post.

On Monday, the final day of the AU Summit, the African Union will voted by secret ballot for its new Chairperson. It is a close race between incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs.