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African Unity Must Be Taken Seriously

Feb 3, 2009, 4:36 AM

As the African leaders and governments gather in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for the 12th African Union Summit of Heads of States expectations are high on the side of African people of forming an African Union government.

At this summit, the AU is set to make history as it has set aside a whole day during which it will only discuss plans for a union government.

The last time the AU had a special session dedicated to unity plans was at the Accra summit in 2007. But it was just one issue among others.

At the last meeting in July in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, African leaders decided that the Addis summit would be dedicated to finding a solution to the long debate on the viability of a single government for the continent.

The AU has, since 2005, dedicated a lot of time at all of its summits to the debate over unity government for the continent.

But, there are still a lot of questions over the project, says Ms Delphine Lecoutre, a researcher on AU issues and who is attending the summit.

She tells of ''a major conflict between the immediatists, led by Libya, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.'' This group wants the union government formed now.

There is also the "gradualists'' who favour a step by step approach. This group is for harmonization of regional policies and integration of regional economic communities. This group is led by South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and Cape Verde.

One of the strongest proposals for a single government was made by former chairman of the AU commission Mr Alfa Oumar Konare who called for the reinforcement of the executive powers of the AU commission.

However, even as African leaders meet today in Addis, many hurdles remain on the path towards integration. Among the challenges are:

Lack of clarity on the methodology used by the member states and the commission towards the goal of integration. The signs are that member states lack interest in the preparation of documents on integration a situation that leads to endless debates.

There is lack of conception and high level expertise on the unity government plan a fact that leads to confused debates and political interpretations by member states.

There is substantial divergence of views on the way forward, member states have failed to agree on how to start the project or even when to start. This is very simple let's put in proper mechanismsthrough a consultative process with citizens of various nations for so people will show us the way out.

Reports monitored from the summit state that an African Union Commission may be transformed into an African Union Authority. This move is highly welcome, as it will further strengthen the institution thus giving it more powers.

There are regional disparities in terms of the integration process between the AU's various trading blocs.

The AU is still focusing on cooperation instead of coordination and its commission remains a secretariat without executive power.

Ms Lecoutre says, "Many African leaders want to remain in power forever and cannot agree to surrender power. The establishment of a union governmentmeans African leaders must lose some of their powers a fact that is not welcome".

"Despite divergent views on the subject it's imperative to note that one day this continent will be united. It is just a matter of time but it must happen. Unityyou may agree is strength and the more united Africa is the more powerful it becomes. If America can be united why not Africa?" she asked

Meanwhile, besides the issue of integration, this summit will also focus on the need to end the Zimbabwe poll dispute, the coups in Guinea and Mauritania and Somalia, especially the need for AU members to send peacekeepers to the troubled country.

We commend African leaders for their efforts on the issue of integration but still encourage them to redouble their efforts by listening to their people's views on the subject. Popular among these views is 'yes lets unite'. The current summit must come up with some thing tangible for the benefit of all African people.

"The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by somebody doing it." 

Elbert Hubbard