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Youth, trade top agenda at first AU election debate

Fernando Cancio

Addis Ababa (LNC/AFP) Five candidates running for African Union chief took part Friday in the bloc’s first leadership debate, calling for more youth involvement in the grouping and greater integration between member nations.

The candidates from Kenya, Senegal, Chad, Botswana and Equatorial Guinea took to the stage to outline their vision at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa as part of a bid to popularise the 54-nation union.

However rather than a debate on differing viewpoints, the candidates spoke directly to the audience and were largely in agreement about the continent’s pressing issues.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed called for more youth to be involved in the AU.

“We must include them in everything … they should be sitting at the conflict resolution tables,” said Mohamed.

Kenya has been lobbying hard for support for its candidate, who joined the race after three candidates to succeed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma failed to muster enough votes in July.

The debate was live-streamed across the continent. However it is member states and not average citizens who will vote for the chairperson of the AU Commission in January.

Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily, currently the UN’s special representative for Central Africa and another newcomer to the race, called for greater industrialisation of the continent to solve the problem of youth unemployment.

Another topic aired by the candidates was the need for greater trade and integration between African states.

“I would encourage members states to reform their visa regulations … everything goes back to the visa,” said Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi of Botswana.

“We can’t keep arguing 60 years after independence that we cannot cross a border even if we have family on the other side of the border,” added Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat.

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All the candidates lamented the lack of political will from member states to stump up financial contributions to the AU and regretted their financial dependence on the outside world.

“It is scandalous. Africa has the means, what it needs is the will,” said Mahamat.

Bathily said: “It is time we took the moral responsibility for the African continent.”

A new AU Commission President must be chosen because Dlamini-Zuma declined to run for a second four year term.

The chairmanship traditionally rotates between different regions of the continent with the Anglophone Dlamini-Zuma, from South Africa, replacing French-speaking Jean Ping, from Gabon, in 2012.

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