African Union: Forward Ever; Ben Asante Was in Abuja to See African Leaders Break New Grounds with Their First Ever Mid-Term Summit Attended by over 40 Heads of State

Article excerpt

The African Union summit held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, in January broke new grounds as it was the first ever mid-term summit. The idea came about last year when the leaders decided that they could not accomplish all that they needed to do meeting on a yearly basis.

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The decision itself shows more seriousness in addressing the problems of the continent. Some observers have described the new approach as a positive signal.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, the current AU chairman and host whose term of office has been extended to January 2006, boasted in the course of the summit that a new era had emerged in Africa where countries had embraced constitutional change of governments. There was also a growing sense of peer review to the extent that conduct that was acceptable in the past would "no longer be welcome in our midst," Obasanjo added. "People who make coups or forcibly come into power through unconstitutional means will not be welcome."

The UN secretary-general Kofi Annan graced the occasion. He walked in sombre mood alongside President Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone. In their closing statement, the assembled leaders who called Annan "our illustrious son of Africa", pledged to him their support "until the successful end of his tenure at the UN in New York". It was a reference to attempts by America to force Annan to resign (see cover story, p12).

The amazing thing was watching the 80-year-old President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe sprint up the many steps to the meeting hall. He was rewarded with one or two cheers of "Robert, Robert" and clinched fists from members of the small waiting crowd.

President Obasanjo, known to have little regard for protocol, lightened the atmosphere at the opening ceremony by interrupting the poetic speech of the AU Commission chairperson, former President Alpha Konare of Mali, saying, "wait, wait I think some people here can't hear the translation".

Obasanjo then stopped the proceedings for the fault to be fixed. Not done, he mused: "I am told the technicians come from the AU headquarters in Addis." Everyone burst out laughing.

The Sudanese president, Omar Bashir, was present at the summit and the debates on Darfur brought some of the heated moments. Bashir robustly challenged accusations of recent attacks by his security forces. …