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All for One, One for All

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A moment of silence, please, for the Organization of African Unity. Born almost 40 years ago in a wave of optimism that Africa could solve its own problems, the OAU never measured up and last week was mercifully killed off by its member states. Its replacement, the African Union, was launched with a whole new set of rules for managing the progress and viability of the continent. While the OAU was formed to fight colonialism, apartheid and foreign interference, the A.U. will concentrate on human rights, democracy, good governance and development.

But will the new organization suffer the same fate as its predecessor? The OAU sought merely to manage Africa’s conflicts and crises. Instead, they have to be resolved — “and I do mean resolved,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told heads of state and other representatives of the OAU’s 53 members gathered for the changeover in the South African harbor city of Durban last week. As the fanfares of the launch ceremony faded, however, some delegates were already uneasy.

The A.U.’s objectives and principles emphasize democratic codes of conduct that are certainly not practiced by several of its members. Unlike the OAU, the new Union also has the right to intervene in member states in cases of war crimes, genocide and “crimes against humanity.” A Peace and Security Council is to be established, and a permanent pan-African peacekeeping force is planned for the future. If these had been in operation during the OAU days, it is argued, genocide and civil wars in countries like Sierra Leone, Angola and Rwanda might have been avoided.

The number one spoiler in the African Union and the factor that probably gives Western observers the greatest cause for concern is Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Already smarting at the way his dream of a “United States of Africa” — with himself as President — was upstaged by the A.U.’s formation, Gaddafi was also dismayed at another recent bit of scene stealing: the launch of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), an economic initiative led by South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and other African leaders. Only months ago, Gaddafi was dismissing NEPAD as an exercise in neocolonialism. But a visit by Mbeki to Tripoli before the Durban summit brought the Libyan leader back on board, and last week he was even invited to join an expanded NEPAD implementation committee. Still, Gaddafi is clearly uncomfortable with some of NEPAD’s requirements. If African countries want to qualify for Western aid, for instance, they must show they abide by principles of good governance, rule of law, democracy and sound economic management. Yet as Gaddafi told the Durban delegates: “We have democracy of our own style and patterns. We accept assistance, but we refuse conditions.”

Gaddafi would still like the African Union to be based in Libya instead of Addis Ababa, the OAU’s Ethiopian headquarters, and he is reported to be building a palatial meeting hall in Tripoli for the pan-African parliament that is envisaged for the Union. No decision has been made yet on where to locate the planned parliament, an African Court of Justice and an African Central Bank and Monetary Fund. South Africa’s Mbeki, meanwhile, who much to Gaddafi’s discomfort hosted last week’s meeting and will serve as the A.U.’s chairman in its first year, is also in effect running NEPAD from its South African base. “While Mbeki holds the reins, the West is ready to do business,” said a Western diplomat in Durban. “When Gaddafi puts his oar in, it tends to look the other way.”

Apart from the Gaddafi factor, the African Union will have to figure out what to do with rogue members. “African leaders will be judged on how they deal with hard cases, not soft ones,” says Tony Leon, leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance. One hard case has already surfaced: autocratic Zimbabwe. “Who will tell President Robert Mugabe that he’s gone totally off the rails?” asks Mathatha Tsedu, head of the South African National Editors Forum. When the A.U. gets down to examining the fitness of its own members, it will have to look not just at Zimbabwe but also at Cameroon, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), where there are decidedly, as Gaddafi would put it, different styles of “democracy.” Perhaps that assessment will even include Libya, where Gaddafi came to power in a 1969 military coup, rules by decree and has never had a democratic election.

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