The Union Marches on. (Africa)

By Hakata, Michelle | New African, July-August 2001 | Go to article overview

The Union Marches on. (Africa)


Hakata, Michelle, New African


African heads of state will celebrate a rare victory, the formation of an African Union, at a historic OAU summit in Lusaka in July -- the first, since the Union became a reality.

The Union brings to fruition the long cherished dream of uniting Africa's more than 700 million people. In the face of globalisation and the formation of trade and political blocs in the EU, the Americas and Asia, it is envisaged that the African Union will push for favourable trade relations with the rest of the world. With careful nurturing, the Union is set to become the world's biggest economic and political bloc, bringing together some 53 countries.

It will also be tasked with ensuring social cohesion and help shake off vestiges of colonialism which impede African nation building. It will have its own parliament, a central bank, a council of heads of state and a court of justice.

The next 12 months will be a transitional period during which the practicalities of how the Union will work, will be finalised. The Union will inherit some of the structures of the OAU, which has for nearly four decades successfully worked for the political liberation of Africa.

The immediate challenge will be to choose the person to steer the continental body through its transitional period and ensure that Africa takes its rightful place in the world economy. Incumbent OAU secretary general, Salim Ahmed Salim, has indicated he will not seek another term after serving an unprecedented three terms.

As a result, several candidates have thrown their hats into the ring. Namibia is backing the candidature of its foreign affairs minister, TheoBen Gurirab, as it claims it is Southern Africa's turn to lead the continental body, whose secretary-generals have been mostly West Africans.

Four other Southern African countries -- Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe -- are reported to have agreed at a meeting in Botswana to back Gurirab.

From the west coast, the Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, and a West African organisation, the Fraternal Union of West African Populations, have endorsed the candidature of former Ivorian foreign minister, Amara Essy.

Other candidates from West Africa are the UN assistant secretary-general Ibrahim Fall, and the Ecowas executive secretary Lansana Kouyate.

There is intense lobbying for the only woman candidate in the ring, the Zambian parliamentarian, Inonge Mbikusita Lewanika. Interestingly, at the time of going to press, the Zambian government had not endorsed her candidature. …

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