May: Month of mixed celebration for Africa

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Friday's announcement by the OAU that the much-awaited African Union is to be declared 26 May, a day after Africa Liberation Day, should normally evoke a sense of double celebration among Pan-Africanists.
But while officials of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) may be beating the drums of another milestone in Africa's chequered history, it is doubtful whether the replacement of the Addis Ababa-based Organisation with the envisaged Union is indeed an achievement or a vote of no-confidence.
Since its formation 25 May 1963 to foster African unity, the OAU has been credited with some achievements amidst odds; but it is arguable whether the Organisation has lived up to the dreams of its founding fathers.
A delighted OAU secretary-general Salim Ahmed Salim announced Friday on the fringe of the African AIDS Summit in Abuja, that with Nigeria having deposited its instrument of ratification of the Constitutive Act 26 April, the statutory two- thirds or 36 of the OAU's 53 Member States had been attained.
That decision by Africa's most populous nation, which a few weeks ago said it was mounting a public campaign to educate its citizens on the Constitutive Act, means the much-awaited continental Union would now go into force 26 May.
"In conformity with Article 28, the Act shall enter into force thirty days after the deposit of the instruments of ratification by two-thirds of the Member States of the OAU," Salim cited.
Salim did not err to describe it as an historic development, which has far-reaching consequences for African countries and people of the continent as a whole.
According to him the Union proclaimed by the OAU at its 5th extra-ordinary Summit 2 March in Sirte, Libya had now become both "a political and legal reality.
" To a large degree, the speed of its ratification makes the African Union Constitutive Act, unprecedented in African history.
Initiated at the OAU extra-ordinary Summit in Sirte in September 1999, and adopted by the Lome (Togo) Summit in July 2000, the Union was proclaimed at the Sirte II Summit in March 2001 after all 54 OAU Member nations, except Morocco, had signed the Act.
With the strong backing of the Libyan leader, Col.
Moammar Kadhafi, the Union, seeks greater African co-operation and integration.
The number of OAU countries that ratified the Union's Constitutive Act rose from 20 to 32 by the end of Sirte II Summit in Libya.
Proponents remain optimistic that the Union would wake the leadership of Africa's estimated 700 million people from socio- political and economic slumber, to tackle the problems of development more effectively.
The objective would be met through various specialised organs such as the African Parliament, Court of Justice and a Central Bank.
Another aim is to realise the goals of the African Economic Community, whose treaty was signed in Abuja in 1991.
But beyond the euphoria of the declaration lies the big question of whether leaders of the marginalised continent actually grasp the full implications of the huge challenge involved in a United Africa, whose constituent parts are no more than geographical expressions almost 40 years after the symbolic replacement of colonial flags.
After political liberation, the tougher job of economic emancipation may have just begun.
Today, many African countries still look up to their former colonial powers for policy direction, albeit overtly, paying little heed to the yawning aspirations of their own citizens, wracked by poverty, disease and deprivation.
With the sword of some 300 billion US dollars in external debts dangling over Africans, creditor nations in partnership with the IMF and the World Bank stand by in a seeming grand conspiracy to keep the continent underdeveloped through stifling conditions of financial assistance.
The situation is such that Salim's announcement must have been drowned by the gory details emanating from the Abuja Summit about the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other related communicable diseases on the continent.
Equally troubling is the quagmire of national and inter- State conflicts, that have disfigured Africa's once beautiful landscape, now streaming with refugees and millions of displaced people.
Where these conflicts are not externally engineered, with the help of local conspirators, they are by-products of political intolerance, official corruption and mismanagement, nepotism, religious bigotry and ethnicity, part of the malaise of post- independent Africa's leadership.
The sad irony is that with its abundant human and natural resources, Africa should not be a poor continent.
But an ample demonstration of the misplaced priority and questionable commitment by its leaders is the fact that it still takes the now familiar goodwill of the Libyan leader, Col.
Kadhafi, to settle arrears of contributions owed by some Member States, for them to speak at OAU conferences.
While the July Summit in Lusaka, Zambia is to determine the fate of that continental Organisation and hopefully chart the way forward for the much-anticipated African cohesion, disturbing tunes are already in the air over the leadership of the envisaged Union.
Important as the leadership question may seem, it should not overshadow the greater task of addressing the root causes of the myriad of conflicts plaguing Africa.
This is imperative if the Union's Constitutive Act is not to end up like other copious and lofty OAU declarations, which have raised expectations but failed dismally to lift Africa from the abyss it has fallen.

28 april 2001 10:03:00

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