ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is slated to take over as the chairperson of the African Union this month, replacing Benin President Boni Yayi as the head of the pan-African bloc, officials said yesterday.
"Ethiopia is going to pick up the chairmanship of the African Union," Ethiopian Foreign Affairs spokesman Dina Mufti told AFP.
Hailemariam must be officially voted in by member states at the opening of this month's African Union heads of state summit, which runs from Jan. 27 to Jan. 28.
A new chairperson is elected every January at the annual summit and is awarded on a regional basis.
Before current chairman Boni Yayi took on the role, the chairmanship has been successively occupied by northern, southern and central Africa.
The last time East Africa chaired the AU was in 2008 when Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete served as head of the bloc.
Dina said the appointment is especially important for Ethiopia, which hosts the headquarters of the AU and is a founding member nation of the AU's predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU).
"Taking over chairmanship of the African Union will give an opportunity for Ethiopia to work hard for the strengthening of the organisation," he said.
It is the first time the country has occupied the seat since the founding of the AU in 2003, though previous Ethiopian leaders, including late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, served as chair of the OAU.
Hailemariam — Ethiopia's former foreign minister — took over as Prime Minister in August following the sudden death of Zenawi, who ruled the country for 21 years.
The AU summit kicks off this month at the towering Chinese-built AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital. It is the first summit since the election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as chairperson of the AU Commission — the body's executive arm — last July.
The war against Al-Qaeda-linked fighters occupying northern Mali is expected to top the agenda but crises between rivals Sudan and South Sudan and in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo will also be discussed.