Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has been a strong voice for pan African unity and a propelling force for the reform process of the African Union (AU). In a welcome development Kagame was recently was elected Chairperson of the African Union for 2018.

In his speech in Addis Ababa on the 28th of January President Kagame accepted the position as Chairperson of the AU. Kagame said, “It is a solemn honour, to accept the call to serve our Union. Thank you for your double trust. First as the leader of the reform process and now as the leader of our Union. I promise to do this with you and do the best job I can. Obviously, I will need your full support.”

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President Kagame paid tribute to the former Chairperson, President Alpha Conde and stated he had learned a lot from him. Kagame has been consistent proponent of African unity and integration.

“Unity must be our starting point, as we do the necessary work of re-defining our plans and ambitions, in continental terms….These changes need to happen. There is no country on our continent that does not want to be part of a more assertive and visible Africa,” he said.

In his inauguration speech while being sworn in for a third term as president in 2017, he focused on Africa’s prosperity. His message was louder than before, “We are running out of time, and we must act now to save Africa from permanent deprivation.”

The AU launched the Single African Air Transport Market which would open the air spaces of many countries and possibly slashing air transport fares by 30%. Last year the AU passport was launched in Rwanda, although it is still undergoing a trial process and restricted to Presidents.

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Kagame’s message also went to the youths of Africa of whom he said, “we cannot build Africa without you.” The AU has been heavily criticised in the past for perceived ineffectiveness in solving disputes and crises on the continent. Some disillusioned citizens  of many African countries have questioned the usefulness of the organisation, more recently when the slave trade was exposed in Libya.

In the speech President Kagame added that, “by committing to break down these barriers, we will send a tremendous signal in Africa and beyond, that it is no longer business as usual…Our people deserve a brighter future. Their sacrifice and hard work should be rewarded with better lives for families and communities”.

Hopefully with President Kagame as the new chairperson, there will be a significant change in the approach of the AU.