EGYPT’S SISI TO CHAIR AFRICAN UNION
By Hannes Bosman and Donnelly McCleland
Rwandan President Paul Kagame Sunday [on 10 February] handed over the African Union chairmanship to his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The ceremony was the climax of the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) heads of state and government summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Egyptian president will work with South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa as the first vice-chairman and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi as the second vice-chairman. (Daily Nation)
Background of the AU
Founded in 2001 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AU is a continental union consisting of all 55 African countries. It succeeded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The vision of the African Union is: “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.” Simultaneously, it addresses social, economic and political problems on the continent. Some of the objectives of the AU include the promotion of peace, security, and stability on the continent; good governance; and the protection of human rights. Ironically, it is in the area of ‘human rights’ where the appointment of Mr Sisi as the new chairperson is considered to be controversial.
Egypt’s exclusion and reinstatement
Six years ago, Egypt was suspended from the AU following the Sisi-led military coup, considered to be an “interruption of constitutional rule by a member state” contrary to AU principles. The coup resulted in the overthrow of the country’s democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, and brought Mr Sisi into power. However, the AU’s Peace and Security Council agreed to reinstate Egypt almost a year later, even though the organisation’s regulations hold that the governments of member states must be democratically elected.
Concerns over Mr Sisi’s appointment
Reaction to Mr Sisi’s appointment has been mixed. Amnesty International expressed concern that Mr Sisi’s leadership of the bloc could harm the continent’s human rights record. “Under his leadership the country has undergone a catastrophic decline in rights and freedoms,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa campaign director, referring to Mr Sisi’s actions after assuming leadership of Egypt when thousands of Mr Morsi’s supporters and journalists were jailed, and hundreds of protesters died. Bounaim added: “There are real fears about the potential impact his chairmanship could have on the independence of regional human rights mechanisms and their future engagement with civil society.”
What Mr Sisi could bring to the position
Mr Sisi’s first speech to the AU assembly appears to indicate that his tenure as chairman will probably focus on security and peacekeeping. Numerous commentators believe that the Egyptian leader will focus on the fight against armed groups on the continent and the rebuilding efforts of countries recovering from conflict. Mr Sisi indicated that the AU will prioritise mediation and “preventive diplomacy” as one of the key mechanisms for promoting peace and security on the continent.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Mr Sisi’s appointment brings both hope and concern. There is hope that under his direction, extra effort will be made to address the devastating consequences of terror on the continent. However, some have raised the concern that Mr Sisi’s authoritative manner might embolden other authoritarian African leaders, which could undermine democratic advances made in recent years.
The African continent has been subjected to extreme terror and war in many countries. In the name of ‘religion’, many have been tortured and murdered. Victims include Christians, Muslims, children, women, men, animals and the environment – all have suffered. It is as David expressed in Psalm 140: 1-2: “Rescue me, LORD, from evildoers; protect me from the violent, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day.” The Lord is able to use human constructs like the AU to bring about peace and justice, but Godly wisdom is needed if peace-making efforts are to succeed.
When it comes to the concerns raised about Mr Sisi, it is important to remember that the chairmanship of the AU is limited to a year – a ‘season’ only. Since Bible times, leaders have come and gone. All leave ‘footprints’ – some shallow, some deep, some bad, some good. The Bible also reminds us that God appoints and removes leaders (Daniel 2:21), for different seasons. From a human standpoint, Mr Sisi’s appointment is not surprising when considering the AU’s history of promoting Africa’s ‘strongmen’. Mr Sisi’s leadership style is not considered to be ‘democratic’ in Western terms – the numerous arrests and violence since he assumed leadership is a familiar ‘strongman’ pattern used to stamp authority. But despite concerns about possible human rights violations, Mr Sisi has demonstrated a commitment to combating terrorism and ensuring stability in his own country, and based on his own words, it is his desire to continue in a similar vein for the larger African continent.
It is also important to note Mr Sisi’s efforts to bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians in Egyptian society. His very visible efforts to commend the Christians’ role in society is admirable, and has borne fruit. His example holds promise for the larger North African and Middle East region.
But, in order for earthly leaders to succeed in righteous endeavours, they need prayer. “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Mr Sisi needs prayer, both in his role as Egyptian president, and as chairman of the AU in the coming year.
- For Mr Sisi to be a willing peace-maker in the Lord’s hands
- For wisdom for African leaders as they work towards resolving the major challenges they face
- For believers to faithfully uphold their leaders in prayer