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African Union’s 34th summit goes digital due to coronavirus

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The African Union 34th summit kicks off on Saturday but this year, and for the first time, the 55-member pan-African bloc will meet virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The two-day summit’s theme this year is “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want.”

But one of the top discussions will be on Africa’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how economies can overcome the damage.

While vaccination programmes have begun in some countries on the continent, such as Morocco it has been much slower in comparison to wealthier nations.

There have been over 2.6 million cases on the continent since the outbreak in March and there is a more contagious variant from South Africa that is spreading.

The summit will also take up security issues in Africa, including in the Sahel, Libya, South Sudan and Somalia.

The leaders are also expected to elect the African Union Commission’s chairperson and vote for six commissioners.

The incumbent chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat is the sole candidate for a second and the last four-year term.

He still needs to get two-thirds of the vote, overcoming accusations — which he denies — of “a culture of sexual harassment, bribery, corruption and bullying within the commission,” the International Crisis Group wrote in a recent briefing.

The Democratic Republic of Congo will also take over the helm from South Africa to serve as a one-year chairmanship of the union.

This weekend’s summit comes as new US President Joe Biden vows to re-engage with multilateral institutions like the African Union.

In a video message posted Friday, Biden said his administration would engage in “sustained diplomacy, in connection with the African Union, to address conflicts that are costing lives all across the African continent.”