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UNITED NATIONS (FinalCall.com) – “We must not fail the people of Africa and the future of our continent,” African Union chairman and president of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor told his fellow Heads of States and Governments at the opening of the Ninth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Accra, Ghana.
The top agenda item for African leaders at the three-day summit, July 1-3, was how to push for greater unity, according to analysts, including the possibility of a continental government. Pres. Kufuor called it the “great debate”.
“Whatever position any of us will espouse in the debate should be guided by tolerance and critical analysis, even when we disagree with each other’s positions,” the AU chairman said, according to The Chronicle, which is published in Ghana.
The Ghanaian leader said he was speaking in the spirit of Ghana’s first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
The importance of the meeting in Accra was not lost on UN officials. “A more United Africa would foster political dialogue on the continent and could help avoid wars and conflicts that generate tens of thousands of refugees every year, UN refugee chief, AntÃ›nio Guterres told Reuters, on the sidelines of the summit. He told Reuters that closer integration would help governments “prevent conflicts and have better capacity to solve them”.
Deputy UN Secretary-General Asha Rose Mirigo, a Tanzanian, addressed the summit on July 2, and stated that it was healthy for the AU to deliberate on the “modalities” and “pace” of integration in Africa. “In our competitive and increasingly globalized world, it is crucial that we come together to address the challenges facing Africa,” Ms. Mirigo said.
“The UN system is committed to working in ever closer partnership with Africa,” stated the deputy secretary-general.
Some of the African Heads of State and Government at the summit were: Pres. Abdelaziz Boutefika of Algeria, Prime Minister P Mosisili of Lesotho, Dr. Isatou Njie, VP of The Gambia, Pres. FranÃois Bozize of Central African Republic, Pres. Abdolaye Wade of Senegal, Pres. Pedro Pireriz of Cape Verde, Pres. Levi Mwanawasa of Zambia, Pres. Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Pres. Umar Yar-Adua of Nigeria, Pres. Faure Gnassingbe of Togo, Pres. Sidi Mohammed Ould Cheikh Abdullahi of Mauritania, Pres. Sassou Ngueso of Congo Brazzaville, Pres. Yai Boni of Benin, Pres. Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Pres. Ahmed Mohammed Sambi of Comoros Island, Pres. Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, Pres. Moi Kabaki of Kenya, Pres. Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Pres. Omar Bongo of Gabon, Liberian Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Pres. Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Pres. Muammar Gadhafi of Libya and Pres. Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.
There were 150 non-government groups representing 30 African nations that calling for restrictions on the movement of Africans across the continent to be removed, arguing that continental citizenship was essential to continental government, according the Inter Press Service (IPS).
News reports state that the “grand debate” had two sides. The side favoring rapid political and economic integration was led, according to the press, by Pres. Gadhafi, who was quoted by many news agencies as saying that “a referendum should be put to the people” so, that the leaders would see “that all people want a United States of Africa.” He added that the decision must be made by the African masses and not by leaders in conference halls.
Backing the Libyan leader, who called himself a “soldier for Africa, was the presidents of Liberia, Chad, Ethiopia and Senegal.
“There is no salvation for Africa outside political unity. If we remain fragmented into little states, we will remain weak, politically weak,” stated Senegal’s Pres. Wade, according to The Nation, which is published in Nairobi.
“The best articulation of the issue was made by Pres. Wade, in my opinion, that is. He made it clear that it was time,” stated Min. Akbar Muhammad, a member of the Nation of Islam and chairman of the African/Middle East Literary Foundation, who attended the AU summit. The Final Call caught up to Min. Akbar as he was boarding a plane somewhere in the U.S., as he said he was just returning from Accra.
“As I crossed the Atlantic, and reviewed in my mind, what I had witnessed at the summit, I concluded that you have to divide the sides into the camps of “go slow” and “let’s do it now”, that’s how I see it,” Min. Akbar stressed.
The Nation reported that Kenya’s president was one of those calling for a “cautious and structured” approach, while Uganda’s Pres. Museveni stated, “In Uganda, we are not in favor of forming a continental government now.” Lesotho’s Pres. Mosisili, said that the “surrender of national sovereignty was a tall order.”
Nigeria’s Pres. Yar’Adua, newly elected in what observers such as Bill Fletcher Jr., call a highly controversial election, also came down on the side of gradualism. “Consider the source,” stated Mr. Fletcher. To what point does Africa continue to be a victimized continent? asked Mr. Fletcher, who is an international activist and journalist.
Min. Akbar insists that it is time for Africa to move on….
“We must understand who is behind the leaders who talk of gradualism,” Min. Akbar said. “Who stands to gain from division amongst Arabs and Blacks in Africa,” he asked. “America is Africa’s number one trading partner, but look how China is moving in. The Europeans, the former colonial powers, are also not happy with the talk of a United States of Africa. It is their desire to continue to exploit the resources of the continent,” he stressed.
“They are spreading the word that Pres. Gadhafi wants to be the first president of a united Africa; and they are using the conflict in Sudan to drive a wedge in Africa, creating anti-Arab and anti-Islamic feelings. We in the Diaspora cannot allow outside elements to divide Africa,” Min. Akbar said.
“Part of what we are seeing is the continuation of the neo-colonial battlefield,” offers Mr. Fletcher. How can anyone question the motives of Pres. Gadhafi. “For the last 20 years he has been a proponent of African unification,” he added.
The final resolution was a compromise, according to reports. The African Union Commission, will be tasked with studying the steps required for full economic and political integration, while individual states would be required to carry out internal hearings, enabling their citizens to have input.
“Regional economic and political commissions such as SADC, EAC, COMESA and ECOWAS would be asked to speed up free movement of goods and labor, common services, customs and monetary unions and other steps towards more complete integration,” an editorial in Nairobi’s The Nation stated.
The AU Commission report will be addressed at the next AU leaders’ summit in January.
“Every effort at integration is something which I see as positive, it is something which should be supported by the international community,” stated Mr. Guterres, the UNHCR.