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Vol 42 No 14

Published 13th July 2001

The last summit

At least two years of tough negotiations and fund-raising lie ahead if the new African Union is to win credibility

African leaders went to Lusaka to bury the Organisation of African Unity not to praise it. Old habits die hard, though. As 24 presidents and one king presided over the birth of the African Union on 9-11 July, they were haunted by the contradictions of conferences past. Just to remind them, outgoing OAU Chairman Gnassingbé Eyadéma spoke haltingly for an hour and a quarter from a printed text about the important work the organisation had achieved under his leadership. One of Africa's most brutal leaders, Eyadéma shot his way to power in Togo in 1967: under new OAU rules banning coup-makers, he should not have been allowed to attend the summit, let alone chair it. The contradiction between the two Africas - reformers versus corrupt despots - was evident throughout the conference. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke pointedly about HIV-AIDS and the responsibilities of African leaders for ten minutes; Eyadéma spoke pointlessly for 75. Undoubtedly, the OAU has progressed beyond what Uganda's Yoweri Museveni described as a 'trade union for dictators'. Both the African Union and the new economic recovery plan (see Box: Map meets compass) allow for unprecedented interventions by regional organisations in the internal affairs of African states. The economic plan speaks of financial benefits for those which meet reform targets; the plan wants an African regional organisation, not the World Bank, to measure governments' compliance with economic and even political reforms.

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