Challenges Of Ouagadougou OAU Summit

OUAGADOUGOU- Burkina Faso (PANA) -- When they step out from their luxury accommodation and are driven in limousine cars to "Ouaga 2000," venue of the OAU 34th summit opening Monday, African leaders would be greeted by unique but thought-provoking demands from children of the marginalised continent.
Instead of the glossy pictures of themselves, which traditionally adored the streets of prevoius summit venues, leaders of the 53-member organisation are being asked to guarantee the basic rights of these African kids.
"Draw me a picture of a peaceful Africa," are some of the demands against the pictures of these children, that form part of the street decorations.
According to delegates, this departure from the traditional format is perhaps an eloquent attempt to underscore to the leaders the magnitude of challenges confronting the continent's estimated 600 million people as we enter the next millennium.
The Ouagadougou summit is one of the three critical summits before the next century, said OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim, in a televised interview on the eve of the summit.
He noted that some of the pertinent questions "is how to make Africa refuse marginalisation; how we can resolve our problems and make regional alliance more effective.
" For much of its 35 years existence, OAU has been dogged more by political and security problems, as witnessed by the myriad of intra and inter-state conflicts.
These have left Africa poorer in spite of its abundant natural resources.
From Somalia to Sudan, Western Sahara to Angola, Comoros and Rwanda to Liberia and Sierra Leone, the continent battling to feed its people is further burdened with some 20 million internally displaced people and at least six million refugees.
Apart from scaring foreign investors, the unending conflicts have left Africa's economic and social development stunted.
As one delegate noted, "it has been one conflict after another and each time the light is sighted at the end of the tunnel this is quickly extinguished leaving the region worse off.
" It is, therefore, no surprise that like previous summits, peace, security and stability on the continent is very much high on the agenda of the Ouagadougou meeting.
So are issues related to good governance, democratisation, human rights, economic cooperation and integration, transport, communications, information and new technology.
But like Salim observed, the problem is not with new decisions or a lack of plan or declaration, but the implementation of these decisions.
He said as late as 1963 when the organisation was founded, communication and information were recognised as key elements of regional integration "but today Africans still have difficulty making telephone calls within the continent.
" Also, intra-African trade remains minimal while the continent continues to attract less than its fair share of foreign capital, and infact suffers capital flights instead.
But even as African leaders arrive for their annual summit, the OAU is being challenged again by the problem of peace, security and stability, this time involving Eritrea and Ethiopia, which hosts the organisation's headquarters.
The territorial dispute, which has flared into retaliatory military attacks between Addis Ababa and Asmara now threatens to "hijack" the Ouagadougou summit, pushing all other equally pressing problems to the backround.
The 68th OAU ministerial council session battled unsuccessfully to resolve the matter, which was then referred to the leaders as a last resort in the search for peace.
Few delegates are hopeful that the summit could bring an end to the dispute.
They cited the fact that both countries, instead of first reporting the matter to the OAU, took it to the United States, which along with Rwanda is trying to broker peace.
But short of resolving this potentially catastrophic crisis, it remains to be seen what the Ouagadougou summit can offer Africa.

07 june 1998 20:40:00

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