Chad's former prime minister Moussa Faki Mahamat on Saturday won a second term as head of the African Union's executive body at the opening of a two-day virtual summit expected to focus on the continent's pandemic response.
Faki, who ran unopposed, received support from 51 of 55 member states in the secret ballot, officials said.
"Deeply humbled by the overwhelming and historic vote of confidence," Faki tweeted. He also congratulated Monique Nsanzabaganwa, deputy governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, on her election as his deputy.
The AU summit comes almost exactly one year after Egypt recorded the first coronavirus case in Africa, prompting widespread fears that member states' weak health systems would quickly be overwhelmed.
But despite early doomsday predictions, the continent has been hit less hard than other regions so far, recording 3.5 percent of virus cases and four percent of deaths worldwide, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
However many African countries are battling damaging second waves while straining to procure sufficient vaccine doses.
African leaders have been speaking out against vaccine hoarding by rich countries at the expense of poorer ones.
"There is a vaccine nationalism on the rise, with other rich countries jumping the queue, some even pre-ordering more than they require," Faki said in an interview posted on the AU's website ahead of the summit.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was due to deliver a pandemic response update during the closed portion of the summit Saturday.
In an earlier speech he called for "a fresh injection of resources" from the International Monetary Fund to "correct the glaring inequality in fiscal stimulus measures between advanced economies and the rest of the world."
- Elections and crises -
Also on Saturday, Nigerian Bankole Adeoye was elected to head the AU's newly-merged political affairs and peace and security departments.
He is likely to play a critical role, along with Faki, in addressing crises the AU is accused of overlooking.
There are multiple internal conflicts the AU has done little to resolve.
Its Peace and Security Council has failed to hold meetings on a conflict between government forces and anglophone separatists in Cameroon, for example, as well as rising Islamist militancy in Mozambique.
A three-month-old conflict in the AU's host country Ethiopia, pitting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government against the former ruling party of the northern Tigray region, has proved especially sensitive.
Abiy has rejected appeals from high-level AU envoys for talks with Tigrayan leaders, sticking to his line that the conflict is a limited "law and order" operation.
- Congo in charge -
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."
The summit also marks the official beginning of the year-long AU chairmanship of Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, who is replacing Ramaphosa.
Addressing fellow heads of state and government on Saturday, Tshisekedi vowed to make the AU more relevant by taking it "away from meeting rooms".
Tshisekedi has outlined an ambitious agenda that includes responding to climate change, fighting sexual violence, promoting the African Continental Free Trade Area and accelerating his own country's Grand Inga Hydropower Project, which the AU sees as an important source of electricity for the continent.
But Tshisekedi is also embroiled in a tussle for power at home with supporters of DR Congo's former president Joseph Kabila.
Mohamed Diatta, a researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, said Tshisekedi is "trying really hard to consolidate power at home, but it's not an easy task".
"He's probably going to still be busy with that because what he's created at home is essentially a very fragile and loose governing coalition," Diatta told AFP.