African leaders are meeting in Addis Ababa for an annual summit aiming to jumpstart a faltering trade deal while also focusing on the continent’s most pressing challenges, which include armed conflict and a worsening food crisis.
According to international media reports, as the continent reels from a record drought in the Horn of Africa and deadly violence in the Sahel region and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the two-day African Union (AU) meeting in Ethiopia will look to address these issues and accelerate a free-trade pact launched in 2020.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is billed as the biggest in the world in terms of population, gathering 54 of 55 African countries, with Eritrea the only holdout.
African nations currently trade only about 15 percent of their goods and services with each other, and the AfCFTA aims to boost that by 60 percent by 2034 with the elimination of almost all tariffs.
Most of the summit’s sessions will be held behind closed doors at AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.
A main focus of the summit will be on trying to achieve ceasefires in the Sahel and the eastern DRC where the M23 armed group has seized swaths of territory and sparked a diplomatic dispute between Kinshasa and Rwanda, which is accused of backing the rebels.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Africa needed “action for peace” to combat rising violence and promote democratic freedoms on the continent.
“I am deeply concerned about the recent rise in violence by armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the rise of terrorist groups in the Sahel and elsewhere,” Guterres said at the start of the summit.
At a mini-summit on Friday, leaders of the seven-nation East African Community called for all armed groups to withdraw from occupied areas in the eastern DRC by the end of next month.