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As Kagame steps down, Egypt takes helm at African Union

AFP  |  Addis Ababa 

Rwandan Paul Kagame, who led an active, reformist tenure as chair, on Sunday passes the baton to Egypt, seen as more likely to focus on security issues than expanding the powers of the body.

Egyptian will officially take over the post of of the AU which rotates between the five regions of the continent at the start of a two-day summit in

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 Free Trade Area (CFTA) was agreed by 44 nations in March 2018, but only 19 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.

is backing the initiative, but analysts say it will be less likely to focus on the financial and administrative reforms pushed by

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".

"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 at the Institute for Security Studies.

said Saturday that peaceful elections in DR Congo, and Madagascar, as well as peace deals in and and the truce between and Eritrea, were signs of a "wind of hope" on the continent.

Kagame, who has been leading institutional reforms since 2016, pushed for a continent-wide import tax to fund the AU and reduce its dependence on external donors, who still pay for more than half the institution's annual budget.

But member states have resisted this along with reform of the AU Commission, its organ. In November 2018, most states rejected a proposal to give the of the the power to name deputies and commissioners.

Like other regional heavyweights and South Africa, is not keen on a powerful AU, an African told AFP.

Especially because has "never forgotten" its suspension in 2013 after deposed Mohamed Morsi, who in 2012 became the country's first democratically elected president, the said.

"Traditionally, leaders of big powers have not really helped the position of AU chairperson, as they don't want an AU which is too strong or too intrusive," said of the

"The AU and the are only as strong as its members want them to be. Unlike the EU, African have not transferred some of their sovereignty to the AU." suffered a crushing blow from the AU after expressing "serious doubts" about the results of Democratic Republic of Congo's recent presidential election, which was officially won by

While also disputed by the Catholic church, the results were validated by DRC's constitutional court and saluted by heavyweights South Africa, and

"This whole thing was an embarrassment for the AU, it showed the limitations of what the can do," said Jobson.

International expressed fears that Egypt's chairmanship could undermine human rights mechanisms in the AU.

"During his time in power President has demonstrated a shocking contempt for human rights. Under his leadership the country has undergone a catastrophic decline in rights and freedoms," said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty's North Campaigns Director.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, February 10 2019. 11:30 IST