Copyright The Nation (Nairobi)
2 July 2007
The Ninth Africa Union heads of state summit opened in Accra, Ghana, yesterday with renewed calls for African political union.
Outgoing AU Commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare stole the show with a passionate speech pressing the need for an African government.
With dozens of presidents in attendance including President Kibaki, Mr Konare electrified the Summit opening by throwing away the diplomatic manual to deliver stinging rebuke to the assembled leaders.
Speaking without notes, Mr Konare criticised the AU as an ineffective and powerless body, referring to many of the critical problems on the continent,from the Darfur crisis to dictatorship, human rights, corruption and poverty that the African leaders prefer not to confront.
In an unprecedented address from the top AU official, Mr Konare made a strong pitch for progress towards a unity, taking the view that the AU would remain a talking shop unless it acquired legislative power that could only come with creation of a United States of Africa.
Delivering the official opening speech shortly afterwards, Ghana’s President John Kufuor who is the new AU chairman noted that the Accra Summit is devoted exclusively to discussing proposals for a continental government.
At the same time, Foreign minister, Mr Raphael Tuju, yesterday said the Kenyan delegation had gone to the summit with an open mind and was fully committed to the AU charter, which it had signed.
The minister said: “The AU charter is something all of us who signed the charter are committed to, but the devil is in the details.”
Mr Tuju said the question was on what, when and how, which is the subject of discussion at the on going AU summit in Accra.
Ironically, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who has been a lone voice amongst African leaders in demanding immediate union skipped the opening ceremonies.
The Libyan leader had caused a stir prior to arrival in Accra with visits to many neighbouring states where he dismissed the AU as useless and demanded immediate steps towards an African government.
In his opening speech President Kufour did not directly refer to the absent Gadaffi’s demand for immediate union, but focused on the need for gradual and structured approach. The Ghanaian president referred to the independence of Ghana under the late President Nkrumah 50 years ago, the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (The AU’s predecessor) by the late President Kenyatta and other stalwarts of African liberation in 1963 and over events which established the clarion call “Africa Must Unite”.
He also noted that the establishment of the AU nine years ago was seen as merely the first step towards the ream of dream of African political and economic union.
Others who spoke at the opening ceremony were the Secretary General of the Arab League Mr Amr Moussa and the deputy secretary general of the United Nations Dr Asha-Rose Migiro.
One of the highlights of the AU conference was supposed to be a historic debate yesterday featuring five African presidents seated across five African journalists.
But the debate was called off late on Saturday. The message form the host Government and the AU was that it would be re-scheduled for Tuesday.
There was drama at the opening of the summit as armed policemen and soldiers faced-off with angry journalists marching towards the conference hall.
Hundred of journalists who had converged in Accra from all over the world had been barred from entering the main hall at the Accra International Conference Centre. They were restricted to the media centre where they were supposed to watch the opening speeches in television monitors. The picture often dissapeared and the sound was mostly not audible.
As President Kufuor was delivering the opening speech, the journalists signed a petition of protest and started marching towards the conference hall about 50 metres away.
But armed policemen and soldiers in battle fatigues were deployed to set up a barricade. Even journalists who wanted to leave the Conference Centre entirely were blocked, provoking an angry stand-off that continued for nearly an hour until after the morning programme was concluded and the large retinue of assembled presidents had left.
Earlir, yesterday, declaring himself a “soldier for Africa”, Gaddafi called on the continent to unite under a single government so it could compete in a globalised world, adds Reuters.
He said: “For Africa, the matter is to be or not to be,” the Libyan leader told a cheering audience of students, activists and local Muslim leaders at the University of Ghana.
“My vision is to wake up the African leaders to unify our continent.” Flanked by female bodyguards dressed in camouflage, Col Gaddafi wore dark glasses and a brown shirt emblazoned with images of Pan-African leaders and a map of the continent.
But, as heads of state and government began arriving in Accra for the summit, most of the 53 AU members appeared to favour a gradual, step-by-step creation of a United States of Africa.
“When you build a house you should start with the foundation, not the roof,” Zambian Foreign Minister Mundia Sikatana told Reuters. “We are telling him, as we say in one of our African languages ‘pole pole’ (Swahili for ‘slowly’).”
But, human rights groups from the continent supported Gaddafi.
They called for the removal of visa requirements between Africa’s more than 50 states and the lifting of commercial barriers in the world’s poorest continent, whose trade and transport links lag far behind other parts of the world.
“Without continental citizenship, continental government is meaningless,” the groups said in a statement which expressed enthusiastic support for the proposal, to be debated at the summit, to create a continental government.
They also urged African leaders to study introducing direct elections across the continent from 2009 onwards to appoint members of a legislating African parliament that would truly represent Africa’s nearly 1 billion people.
The existing Pan-African Parliament in South Africa is composed of representatives of national assembles and parliaments from individual states and is largely advisory. Mr Brian Kagoro, Pan Africa programme director of Action Aid International, told reporters: “The borders that constitute us into African states were arbitrarily drawn by some white men, some under the heavy influence of whisky.”
Historical “carving up”
He was referring to the historical “carving up” of Africa by European colonial powers that took place at the end of the 19th century, giving the continent its current web of borders.
Mr Kagoro and other civil society representatives said that in its existing “defederated state”, Africa could never compete as an equal with other major economic blocs and powers, despite its vast resources of oil, mineral and human capital. “Inter-African trade is still criminalised.
Those brave souls who trade across borders are branded as smugglers,” said political scientist Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, who is general secretary of the Global Pan-African Movement.
Macharia Gaitho – The Nation (Nairobi)
Copyright The Nation (Nairobi)