Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Leaders map out African Union overhaul

Leaders map out African Union overhaul
by Chris Otton
Sun Jul 1, 2007

Leaders of the African Union began mapping out plans to forge a closer federation of states at a summit in Ghana Sunday, acknowledging the continent's current system of governance had to improve.

Fifty years after it became the first African nation to free itself from colonialism, Ghana was the venue of an AU meeting devoted to working out how the world's poorest continent can gain strength through unity.

Ghana's President John Kufuor and AU commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare both told heads of state they can fulfill the vision of Ghana's founding father Kwame Nkrumah who saw a unified Africa as an unstoppable force for good.

"The question of unification is not in doubt.... What remains is the form of government and how and when to attain it," said Kufuor.

"I am confident that at the end of our deliberations, we should be able to arrive at a common understanding on the sort of continental government we want for ourselves, and a roadmap with timelines on its realisation," he added.

The three-day summit has been billed by some as an opportunity to forge a so-called United States of Africa, with Libya's President Moamer Kadhafi at the forefront of the pressure, urging a common defence and foreign policy.

Other leaders however such as South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki are far cooler towards that and want the AU to be given time to build up its own institutions given it was only formed five years at a summit in Durban.

Kufuor said the AU needed "structural improvements and nurturing" while Konare told the leaders there was "a real need for change, for transformation" of institutions which were still struggling to carve out a clear role.

"The African Union Commission which should be the engine for the union does not have a well-defined status and character," he said.

"We need to have a strong decision today because integration is a major political action."

In his speech, Konare acknowledged some of the crises still confronting the AU, including the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region and civil war in Somalia.

The AU's shortcomings were underlined at the last summit in Ethiopia in January when it failed to persuade any nation but Uganda to send troops on a peacekeeping mission to Somalia.

Events in Addis Ababa were also marred by the continued bloodshed in Darfur which effectively scuppered Khartoum's ambitions of becoming president of the organisation.

A force of some 7,000 AU troops has been unable to stop the carnage in Darfur and is now desperate to be bolstered by troops from the United Nations.

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who is skipping the summit following the death of a close advisor in a car crash, went on a public relations offensive before it opened, accusing the West of hyping the crisis in Darfur because of its interest in his country's oil reserves.

However Konare said it was time for Sudan to finally accept the presence of blue-helmet troops on its soil as part of a joint AU-UN force Beshir has agreed to in principle and backed a UN resolution to ensure its deployment.

"We have made progress (on Darfur) because Sudan has accepted the hybrid force," he said.

"Now we need to implement it, persuade our Sudanese brothers to implement it. What is lacking today is a UN resolution and fresh resources to deploy our troops on the ground."

Following the opening speeches, leaders then went into a closed door session to discuss the plans for closer union.

For all the talk of the need for greater unity, analysts believe a general strengthening of the AU commission, including increased funding, is the most likely outcome.

"The most unlikely scenario is the immediate creation of a United States of Africa," said Delphine Lecoutre, an analyst at the Institute of Strategic Studies in South Africa.

"That's a very long-term ultimate objective that the AU has only put its name to in order to calm Kadhafi down."

Ghanaian government sources said Kadhafi was absent from the opening ceremony after being refused permission to address his peers.

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