From Caesar Zvayi in ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
THE African Union Commission and staff yesterday said they were blessed to have President Mugabe as their chairman for the next year as they were confident he would help foster the union’s financial independence the same way he has fought for holistic independence in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere on the continent.
In his address during the inaugural meeting between President Mugabe and the AU Commission and workers here yesterday, AU Staff Association president Mr Salah Siddiq Hammad decried the AU’s current funding predicament that sees over 70 percent of the budget coming from donors, many of whom end up trying to influence AU programmes as they tried to do while opposing President Mugabe’s election to the chairman- ship.
‘‘Sadly Your Excellency, we have been hearing that our programmes and activities depend heavily on donors, and we are very delighted and honoured as African people and Africans working for the African Union that a decision has been taken to seek alternative sources of funding for the continental organisation.
‘‘We really hope that during this Presidency that this decision can be implemented so that we can be liberated as you previously liberated Zimbabwe and the African continent so that we can depend on ourselves, proudly as we are Africans. We are the African Union and we are funding the African Union as Africans,’’ Mr Hammad said.
To this end the 24th Summit adopted a resolution for alternative sources of funding to enable the AU to fund 100 percent of its running costs, at least 75 percent of its programme expenses, and at least 25 percent of peacekeeping operations within the next five years, and to cumulatively build on this till it is able to fund its entire budget.
The workers, Mr Hammad said, were happy they were meeting not just the chairperson of the Union but one of the founding fathers.
‘’ Today we are not just receiving His Excellency the chairperson of the African Union but we are also receiving one of the founders of this organisation. We are also receiving one of the leaders who liberated our continent, who made it possible for you and me, to be employed today by the African Union, who made it possible for me to stand before you to address you this afternoon.
‘‘If it was not for him and other leaders, we would still be in the bush somewhere fighting for our liberty,’’ Mr Hammad said to applause from the hall.
President Mugabe, then leader of the liberation movement Zanu, attended the launch of the Organisation of African Unity on May 25 1963, as an observer and was also there a year later at the second Summit in Cairo, Egypt before missing subsequent OAU summits after he was imprisoned by the Smith regime for 11 years up to 1975, after which – soon after his release – he crossed into Mozambique on April 4 1975 to lead the liberation struggle.
He was to make a triumphant return on January 27 1980, five years after he crossed into Mozambique. This followed the ceasefire brokered at the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference to enable the warring parties to prepare for the first, multi-party, democratic elections.
Cde Mugabe and other cadres were welcomed by a crowd estimated at 1,6 million by the Zanu-PF information and publicity department, 200 000 by the BBC, 150 000 by the Rhodesian police, and 1 million – with a safety margin of 25 percent – by people who said they arrived at the figure by enlarging aerial photographs and calculating crowd density.
Whatever the final figure, a crowd never before seen in the history of this country welcomed Cde Mugabe at Zimbabwe Grounds.
‘’Mr Robert Mugabe, thank you very much for your leadership as you liberated not just Zimbabwe but also the entirety of Africa,’’
‘’You, Your Excellency declared in your acceptance statement that you will dedicate this year to promote the lives of Africans and we as the staff of the African Union as a whole, we are behind you to support you in that commitment,’’ he added.
Earlier on, in her introductory remarks, AU Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma, told the Commissioners and staff that Zimbabwe was the only country on the continent to have emphasized total independence from the word go.
‘’President Mugabe is the father of modern Zimbabwe, custodian of what Zimbabwe has together with its people, the minerals, the land and all that goes with it.
‘’Zimbabwe is one country that has always emphasized its independence, education was compulsory at independence. They also tried to ensure that everyone had access to health and the thing that fought for, the land which had been taken has been returned,’’ Dr Zuma said.
Given that the AU development roadmap, Agenda 2063 advocates resource nationalism and women empowerment, Dr Zuma said, the Union was lucky to have President Mugabe – a firm proponent of both — at the helm.
‘’He also comes at the right time in light of our theme. He is a firm defender of women’s rights. We are very happy to have him as our chairman this year,’’ she said.
Zim-Asset and Agenda 2063 have striking similarities as both seek to harness domestic resources for the betterment of the lives of Africans by promoting value-addition, beneficiation and the development of infrastructure and utilities to facilitate industrialization.
In his address, President Mugabe thanked the Commission and staff for the time they afforded him to acquaint himself with their operations, as he pledged unity of purpose to achieve the continent’s development objectives.