The 42nd ordinary session of the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) kicked off on Wednesday with a call for increasing efforts to deepen continental integration and toward realizing Africa's development aspirations.
The meeting, comprising foreign affairs ministers from AU member states, runs from February 15 to 16. It is being held under the AU's theme of the year for 2023, "The Year of AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation."
Addressing the executive council, chairperson of the AU Commission Mussa Faki Mahamat said the evaluation of the implementation of the first decade of the AU's 50-year continental development Agenda 2063 has shown that Africa is moving forward, yet the continent has a long way to go.
"The success of the implementation of the second decade (of Agenda 2063) will depend on the level of how we take into account the various obstacles, including the effectiveness and efficiency in the implementation of the decisions of the policy organs," he said.
Faki called for continental efforts to strengthen the position of Africa at the multilateral level and also to look at the shared values that can be better harnessed.
The AU Commission chairperson also expressed concern over increasing peace and security threats as well as unconstitutional change of governments, which are some of the major continental challenges affecting Africa.
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Acting Executive Secretary Antonio Pedro, on his part, called on African countries to exert concerted efforts towards the realization of the continental free trade area.
"The AfCFTA's continental market provides the economy of scale in manufacturing, leading to increased intra-Africa trade, eventually bringing supply chains closer to home and injecting a degree of self-sufficiency in essential products such as medicines, food and fertilizers," he said.
He said the continental free trade pact, by providing more opportunities for women and youth, helps reduce inequality and poverty and improve inclusion.
Pedro, however, said 10 African countries are yet to ratify the agreement establishing the AfCFTA, which compromises the realization of the full aspirations of the free trade pact.
"Only through an accelerated and effective implementation of the AfCFTA can Africa build sufficient shock absorbers to build resilience," Pedro said.
Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, on his part, emphasized the crucial role that the AU and pan-African actors are playing in ensuring peace and security across the continent.
He underscored the AU's role in bringing an end to the two-year conflict in Northern Ethiopia.
"Over the past two years, we are grateful to see that our faith in the African Union has been vindicated," Mekonnen said.
"Africans should lead their endeavor to silence the guns in Africa. We call for optimal use of our peace and security architecture. This will help us address the remaining challenges in conflict management, prevention, and resolution," he added.
The Executive Council meeting, which brings together foreign ministers of African countries at the AU Headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, is expected to consider the draft agenda of the 36th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly, slated to be held from February 18 to 19.