ADDIS ABABA, Feb 2 — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s chairmanship of the African Union (AU) this year will be marked by an aggressive push for Africa’s economic empowerment to lift the world’s poorest continent out of poverty, a senior government official says.

The Zimbabwean leader was elected new AU chairman on Friday at the 24th Ordinary Session of the Heads of State and Government Summit here, taking over from Mauritania which had held the position from January
last year.

Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said President Mugabe would push for local control of Africa’s vast natural resources, and also press for increased domestic value addition and processing to the endowments to ensure the continent derived maximum value.

At home, President Mugabe is already undertaking this through land reforms which have benefited hundreds of thousands of landless peasants, and the indigenization policy which seeks to ensure exclusive local ownership of natural resources such as minerals.

Mumbengegwi said Africa needed such a paradigm economic policy shift to lift it out of poverty, and stop her centuries-old exploitation by developed countries. At the moment, Africa primarily exports its natural resources in raw form, earning it little, and keeping the continent perpetually weak economically, and dependent.

Mumbengegwi said President Mugabe would focus, during his AU chairmanship, primarily on unlocking the full value of Africa’s natural resources, and ensuring the continent derived maximum benefit from these through
local processing and value addition. Only then could Africa begin the long journey to economic development and freedom, he added.

“The key element is the departure from the current practice where Africa exports its resources in raw form. If you don’t industrialize, if you don’t value add, if you don’t beneficiate, you will remain poor,” he said.

Mumbengegwi said the AU summit had made a head-start in this direction by adopting the continental body’s ambitious 50-year Agenda 2063, a programme that, among other things, emphasizes local control of natural resources, and value addition.

“This is the key thrust of President Mugabe’s chairmanship … to lay the foundation of this programme (Agenda 2063). The people of Africa should, and must, benefit from the vast resources on the continent,” he said.

President Mugabe will also focus his chairmanship on development of infrastructure such as power generation, information communication technology (ICT), roads and rail, seen as key enablers of the envisaged industrialization of the continent based on natural resource processing.

Africa’s infrastructure is not only rickety, but also inadequate and unconnected to serve the common interests of the continent. Mumbengegwi said President Mugabe will also use his chairmanship to
find “ways and means” for the AU to become self-financing, and stop relying on Western donors.

“One aspect which has always pre-occupied President Robert Mugabe is the funding of our (AU) programmes. The old saying that whoever pays the piper calls the tune is true,” he said, referring to donor interference in the affairs of the continental body.

At present, 72 per cent of the AU budget is funded by donors, and just 28 per cent by member states. Mumbengegwi said the AU hoped to reverse this in the next five years, with a target of 76 per cent funding for the AU budget coming from member states.