Some 40 heads of state and government at a special summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Friday, March 2, proclaimed the birth of the African Union, designed to unite the continent politically and economically. "The African Union was proclaimed through the political determination of the participants, who rose to applaud," one of the participants told AFP.
However the source said the decision was a "political" one, and that the formal birth of the Union would only effectively take place once it had been officially ratified by at least 36 of the OAU's 53 member states, "which should be done soon". Earlier on Friday, OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmad Salim said only 31 states had so far ratified the Union.
Heads of state and government from some 40 OAU member states are attending the two-day summit at the invitation of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who is the driving force behind the African Union concept.
Among those attending are Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, and the current OAU chairman, Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema.
The Union, which will only enter into force 30 days after two-thirds of the OAU states have ratified the Constitutive Act, is slated eventually to replace the OAU and, following a model loosely based on the European Union, would have a parliament, a central bank, a monetary fund and a court of justice.
The participants, who began meeting on Thursday, were still locked in talks Friday afternoon behind closed doors to draft a final statement. The most willing backers of Kadhafi's vision have been countries — small, poor or both — that benefit from Libyan financial aid, used for example to help pay their OAU dues.
They include The Gambia, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali and Niger.
Several key players on the continent however, including regional powerhouses Nigeria and South Africa have been wary. And established regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern African Development Community are worried about interference in their regional affairs.
Africa's Arab countries meanwhile, tend to be even less enthusiastic. "Egypt considers itself the sole gateway to Africa, Algeria as the continent's unifier, and Morocco boycotts the OAU (over its recognition of Western Sahara)," a delegate said Wednesday.
Among the heads of state also attending the summit are those from Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zambia, organizers said. — (AFP, Sirte)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )