African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has warned that a Donald Trump's administration threatened global progress on climate change and women's rights.
Africa should counter this by establishing the planned continental free trade area this year, she said.
In her last speech at the opening of the AU executive council of ministers' meeting on Wednesday, Dlamini-Zuma said: "We seem to be moving towards a multi-polar world as the US under the new administration threatens the consensus on climate change, attack hard-won women’s rights and move towards protectionism.
"Africa's only protection in these treacherous global waters is to honour the decision to commence its own Continental Free Trade Area in 2017," she said.
Trump was inaugurated last week and has already indicated that he would cancel some of the free trade agreements the United States has entered into.
Dlamini-Zuma said Africans should "revive and strengthen the spirit of pan-Africanism, unity and solidarity" if it wanted to achieve the goals set out in its 50-year plan, Agenda 2063.
Growing number of popular streets
The free trade area is the first target of this plan.
Dlamini-Zuma said the continent was changing because it was witnessing a growing number of popular protests on wages, services, democratisation and free education. "Along with the over 50 elections held on the continent over the last four years, and the developments in the cities, towns and rural areas of Africa, shows a continent that too is fast-changing," she said.
She said the elections showed that African countries were taking seriously the bringing of governments closer to the people, and that the transition of power, where it happened, were mostly peaceful.
"Where there was a problem, the continent stepped in to make it happen, to avert a crisis," she said.
She cautioned, however, that the continent should do more to strengthen democracy.
A dinner to conclude the AU gender summit on Tuesday night was used to say farewell to Dlamini-Zuma and to honour South African struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who could not attend in person.
One of the speakers said Dlamini-Zuma would be fitting as president of South Africa.
ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini was also at the dinner, following the league’s declaration of support earlier this month for Dlamini-Zuma to succeed President Jacob Zuma in December. The summit is set to conclude with the assembly of heads of state on Monday and Tuesday, when the elections for the new AU Commission chair will be finalised.