Africa: OAU to African Union, 07/18/01

Africa: OAU to African Union, 07/18/01

Africa: OAU to African Union Date distributed (ymd): 010718 Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+


This posting contains two background analysis articles on the meeting from July 2-11, 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia, which concluded with official approval of the transformation of the Organization of African Unity into a new African Union, and the choice of Amara Essy as the new Secretary-General. While the goal of more effective continental unity is widely shared, there is widespread skepticism whether the new organization will be able to be significantly more effective than its predecessor.

The articles below are reposted with permission from Documents from the summit are available, in PDF format only, on the OAU web site at The documents include English and French versions of the decisions of the meeting, and an extensive final report by OAU Secretary-General Salim Salim.

In his sober concluding reflections the OAU Secretary-General noted the "remarkable victory" in "holding together and even in being able to contemplate strategies of collective self-reliance." He noted greater political will "to pursue a Continental agenda" and the greater acceptance of fundamental political principles such as "popular participation, the rule of law, and respoect for human rights." However, he added, "Many of the initiatives that require sustainable action often remain at the level of decisions and declarations that are not followed up."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's address to the OAU summit can be found at:

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>From OAU to AU - Whither Africa?


July 13, 2001

By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton Lusaka, Zambia

"This historic effort will require leadership, courage and willingness to depart from the ways of the past, if it is to do for Africa what the European Union has done for Europe".

Those are the words of Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, himself an African from Ghana. He was speaking about the newly-created African Union (AU) which is to replace the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Annan's address was delivered at the 37th OAU summit, which ended in Lusaka, Zambia this week, and has prepared the ground for the transition period into the African Union. The AU was inspired by the European Union and styled on other global continental bodies in Asia and America.

But will it work?

The African Union is being touted as the continental body that will pave the way to a better life for all Africans. It is a tall order. In less than a year, the new interim secretary-general of the OAU, Cote d'Ivoire's former foreign minister, Amara Essy, must try to steer the continent towards a semblance of unity and development that will put Africa firmly on the global stage.

Analysts warn that too much faith is being placed in a document that makes more sense in theory than in practice. They say African leaders are rushing to create what should be a more effective political and economic union without enough thought, thanks to fears of being left trailing in the rapid race of globalisation. The observers conclude that the timetable for trying to achieve these goals is unrealistic and could backfire.

The right leadership?

Then there are those qualities cited by Annan. Does the current continental leadership have what it takes? The answer is yes and no. There are serving African leaders of vision and integrity, who are competent and committed. There are others who have not lived up to high hopes and expectations of their election and have manifestly failed their people.

There are hawks and doves, there are movers and shakers and there are those leaders who delight in obstructing and thwarting progress. In short, Africa has some leaders who are a credit to the continent and others who are a disgrace.

Kofi Annan went straight to the point when he stressed that the resolution of the many conflicts in Africa was essential to making the continent work. But he also pointed out that these were "in a great measure the result of misguided leadership which is unwilling or unable to put the people's interests first." He told a news conference: "No one can say that 'My country has peace and therefore conflicts in this or that country are not my responsibility.' No one wants to invest in bad neighbourhoods, so we need to clean up our neighbourhood."

The OAU, created in 1963, dedicated most of its resources and energy to the fight against colonialism in Africa and backed the Frontline states and the continent in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The priorities and ambitions of the African Union will be different.

A new plan for Africa

The African Initiative, which is a merger of the Millennium African Recovery Programme (MAP) spearheaded by South African leader Thabo Mbeki, and the Plan Omega proposed by Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, was promoted in Lusaka as a blueprint for the regeneration of Africa.

The Initiative calls on African leaders to consolidate democracy and development on the continent and strive for prosperity. It urges the richer, industrialized world to increase investment, assistance and confidence in Africa.

The plan, one of the many challenges facing Africa, was presented to the leaders at the Lusaka summit.

In his opening remarks, the outgoing OAU secretary-general, Salim Ahmed Salim of Tanzania, said: "This summit must provide answers to the questions that occupy the minds of our people, including the form and nature of the AU that we are establishing. Is the Union merely the OAU in a different name?" Salim asked.

Africans all over the continent are asking the same question and hoping the AU is not. Salim, who has occupied the top post for the past 12 years, was referring to the lack of political clout, and perhaps more significantly money, of the OAU to achieve its aims, including the resolution of the devastating regional wars.

Al-Gaddafi's role

Doubt also hangs over the intentions of the Libyan leader, Muammar Al-Gaddafi, who, as the star attraction, dominated the OAU summit in Lusaka. The Guide, as Al-Gaddafi is known in Libya, is reported to have contributed US$1m to the fund for the transformation of the OAU into the AU. He has been credited with making the vision of the African Union possible and being the chief architect of the new union.

But there were worries expressed in whispers in Lusaka about whether the Guide of the Libyan Revolution could really be the helmsman of the continental revolution. Questions are being asked about Al-Gaddafi's motives. Old-timers noted the absence in Al-Gaddafi's speeches of any mention of the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity, among them Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, who promoted pan-Africanism more than forty years ago.

There was also no open talk of the ferocious and sometimes murderous attacks on black Africans in Libya by local citizens, furious with The Guide for consorting with and financing 'blacks' at the expense of Arab-Africans in his own country. They clearly do not share Al-Gaddafi's desire to encourage pan-Africanism.

Striking a strident note as he addressed the closing session of probably the last OAU summit, Al-Gaddafi said of the AU: "We cannot be neutral here. We are here for the Africans, not the Europeans. We are here for the blacks, not for the whites."

Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the US-based Nation of Islam in Chicago and a friend of Al-Gaddafi, sat behind The Guide during the closing ceremony.

The Libyan leader played to the gallery, and found his way into the hearts of a group of students in Lusaka earlier in week, when he reminded them that, in colonial times' Europeans "treated us (Africans) like animals in the jungle. As a matter of fact, they hunted us in our villages and in our homes. We suffered from them. Why should we imitate them when there is no common denominator between us and them?" asked Al-Gaddafi.

"Wanting to mimic the US takes us back," the Libyan leader warned his African counterparts, implying that the drafters of the AU had drawn too much from Western models. "We want a united and integrated Africa, that's what we require." Backwards or forwards?

Several analysts and delegates in Lusaka dismissed The Guide's discourse and ideas as old hat, the usual attacks on the West and harking back to a past era, at a time when Africans should be looking forward.

Al-Gaddafi's detractors portray his recent interest and influence in Africa as largesse which comes at a price for the rest of the continent. They say the Libyan's tactics relegate other African leaders to a secondary position, strips them of importance and dignity and preys on poor African nations and their people.

An Al-Gaddafi aide told journalists that Africans "talked about dignity. But there is not much dignity when the presidents ask him (Gaddafi) for money. He always gives them money, but he never tries to influence their policies." Others disagree, saying that Al-Gaddafi has clear ideas about what he wants and how he intends to get it. "He has built his support in the OAU to strengthen Libya's position in international organizations," said one delegate. African support has helped Libya's slow and chequered return to the world fold, after years as a global pariah in international isolation and under UN sanctions for supporting terrorism.

Hopes for a better future

Whatever Al-Gaddafi may hope to get out of his fellow African leaders, the people of the continent want the birth of the African Union to herald peace, stability and increased prosperity. They hope that the AU - as a stronger and more effective continental organisation - will bring them those benefits.

The new chairman of the OAU, Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, told the summit that African leaders had agreed that the new union would form a parliament and a central bank, as well as a continental parliament, but that the AU would initially concentrate on creating an assembly of heads of state, a council of foreign ministers, a secretariat and a permanent committee of ambassadors. The union's charter also envisages a common currency and court of justice.

Perhaps more important to a larger African audience was Chiluba's mention of greater unity accompanied by speedy and decisive action. "Africa does not have the luxury of time. If we hesitate, or procrastinate in implementing the decision we have taken concerning the establishment of the African Union, time will pass us by. We are living in an era where change takes place in milliseconds" said the Zambian leader.

Fine words and noble ambitions, say the skeptics, who doubt that the African Union will bring either real change, political will or the necessary resources to change the lives of most Africans, especially the poor.

Amara Essy - A New Man for OAU and Africa


July 11, 2001

By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton Lusaka, Zambia

Eight gruelling rounds of voting propelled the former foreign minister of Cote d'Ivoire, Amara Essy, into Africa's top job this week at the OAU summit.

The gracious 57 year old Ivorian diplomat, as the new interim secretary general of the Organisation of African Union (OAU), will be Africa's new helmsman, steering the continent's nations through the transition to the Africa Union.

Essy's allies quietly and effectively lobbied for him to become the OAU secretary-general at a crucial time in the organization's history.

After hours of negotiating among African leaders, Essy saw off a challenge from the Namibian foreign minister, Theo Ben Gurirab, and Lansana Kouyate, a former executive secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), from Guinea.

"I have been elected to build the structure of the African Union. We will try to do our best," Essy told reporters, adding, "The main task, I think, is clear, because the mandate of the new secretary general is to transform the OAU into the African Union."

The Ivorian also had to defeat what observers said was a concerted campaign spearheaded by the Libyan leader Muammar Al-Gaddafi to extend, by one year, the contract of the outgoing Tanzanian head of the OAU, Salim Ahmed Salim.

Big guns from Ivory Coast, including Simeon Ake who was for years foreign minister under the late President Felix Houphouet Boigny, were wheeled out to support Essy.

Softly-spoken, with a ready, warm smile and impeccable credentials after 13 years steering diplomacy in Ivory Coast, Essy told reporters after his election that the wait had been rather long, though he looked relaxed walking the corridors of the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka before the announcement was made.

The Ivorian will begin the daunting task of steering Africa's leading continental organization into uncharted waters in September, at the end of Salim's third four year term. "We have many things to put in place. We will have to see what will be our priorities," he told

Essy, who lost out to Ghana's Kofi Annan for the post of secretary-general of the United Nations, first challenged Salim for the leadership of the OAU in 1997, but pulled out before the summit that year. He said he preferred not to divide Africa on the issue.

On Tuesday, Annan welcomed Essy's appointment saying he was "particularly well-qualified to lead the organization during this challenging period," adding, "he brings to the OAU his extensive regional and international diplomatic experience. He facilitated the peaceful resolution of many conflicts in Africa. These skills will be critical in his new assignment at the OAU."

Essy was Annan's special envoy to the Central African Republic in 2000. The UN secretary-general described him as a consensus builder, offering effective leadership.

As foreign minister of Cote d'Ivoire, first under Houphouet Boigny and then under his successor, Henri Konan Bedie, Essy dealt first hand with the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He shuttled between West African capitals trying to help bring peace to a region increasingly in turmoil.

In a recent interview, he said: "In Africa, nobody can succeed alone without others. There will be no economic recovery if we don't resolve our security problems."

The Ivorian diplomat survived the fall of Bedie in a coup d'etat on 24 December 1999. He was abroad at the time, but returned to Ivory Coast and emerged untainted by the scandals that came in the wake of Bedie's departure.

Essy spent much of his diplomatic life at the United Nations in New York, where he served in several capacities as ambassador and was notably the president of the 49th session of the UN General Assembly. He was also a diplomatic envoy to other countries and international institutions.

But he began life in less illustrious circumstances. "At age 7, I sold the bread my mother baked. Then I did the minimum number of years at school, but my teacher encouraged me to continue and not to stop and get a job."

Essy's studies took him far afield, via a ship from Vientiane, the Laotian capital, and Tierra del Fuego (at the tip of Chile) and onto further studies and to his first diplomatic post in Brazil, where he fell in love with the music and the salsa beat.

Amara Essy is a practising Muslim, from the central city of Bouake in Cote d'Ivoire. He is married to Lucie, a Christian, and they have six children.

He bears a striking likeness to the Brazilian footballing legend, Pele and was once mistaken for the soccer star after he kicked off his diplomatic career in Brazil in 1971. "One time, I walked into a reception and the whole room got up and started to cheer. I then understood they had taken me for Pele."

He will need all Pele's fancy footwork, as well as his own consummate diplomatic skills, to navigate the months ahead


From: "APIC" <> Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2001 13:00:20 -0500 Subject: Africa: OAU to African Union

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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