President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, will officially take over the post of ceremonial head of the AU which rotates between the five regions of the continent at the start of the two-day summit in Addis Ababa.
The meeting got underway after a ceremony inaugurating a commemorative statue of the late Ethiopian emperor Haileselassie I at the AU headquarters, in honour of his role in the formation of the continental body.
While multiple crises on the continent will be on the agenda of heads of state from the 55 member nations, the summit will also focus on institutional reforms and the establishment of a continent-wide free trade zone.
The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) was agreed by 44 nations in March 2018, but only 19 countries have ratified the agreement, with 22 needed for it to come into effect.
The single market is a flagship of the AU’s “Agenda 2063” programme, conceived as a strategic framework for socioeconomic transformation.
Cairo is backing the initiative, but analysts say it will be less likely to focus on the financial and administrative reforms pushed by Kagame.
Sisi is however expected to focus more on security, peacekeeping and post-war reconstruction, issues closely tied to the AU’s 2019 theme of “Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons”.
“Egypt has an interest in Africa, they want to strengthen their position on the African continent and they don’t want to be seen as a country only focused on the Arab world,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Saturday that peaceful elections in DR Congo, Mali and Madagascar, as well as peace deals in South Sudan and the Central African Republic and the truce between Ethiopia and Eritrea, were signs of a “wind of hope” on the continent.