afrol News, 10 July - The establishment of the African Union (AU) was celebrated as an important step for further progress in Africa today. Despite the great importance of the Union, most attention was on what was missing: Morocco and Madagascar were not represented in Durban, women were underrepresented and Zimbabwe was not criticised.
The establishment of the AU was however not without significance for the continent. It is the start of a movement towards a unity resembling that of the European Union (EU) and it means the giving up of parts of national sovereignty for the 53 African states. This includes the foreseen establishment of a Peace and Security Council with the power to send troops to countries in turmoil. Further, human rights violations in member countries are to be addressed. Also a single currency and central bank are featured options.
The preceding Organisation of African Unity (OAU) aimed at getting rid of the remaining vestiges of colonisation and apartheid in Africa and to promote unity and solidarity among African states. The new Union on the other hand emphasises on the needs of the 850 million Africans. It aims at economic development, attracting foreign investment and the spread of democracy and human rights.
Critics however claim these praiseworthy tasks might be difficult to fulfil, given the structure of the AU's leadership. The Union will be run by the same governments that run the OAU, many of those only lip-dedicated to development, democracy and human rights.
The discrepancy between the lack of recognition of Ravalomanana's democratically elected Malagasy government and the lack of critique against Mugabe's undemocratic government was cited in support of this view. Neither a Western recognition of Ravalomanana nor a videotaped message to the Assembly by Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai could change the results of the conference.
Another inborn weakness of the Union was the missing presence of Morocco, something made very visible indeed by the fact that Western Sahara President Mohamed Abdelaziz was one of the five presidents representing the big regions of Africa and intervened on behalf of North Africa. Abdelaziz was later named one of the five Vice-Presidents of the Union and is expected to become one of 15 representatives in the Peace and Security Council. Morocco left the OAU when the organisation approved of Western Sahara's membership.
Also the fact that almost no women were represented in the Assembly and meetings had been noted negatively. Women organisations exploited the illustrating male dominance to call for a better representation in African decision-making.
All in all, however, a positive and optimistic mood dominated these festive days in Durban. Closing the summit, its host, South African President Thabo Mbeki, said: "We have created a lot of expectations with the birth of the AU, and we cannot disappoint them." The economic and democracy programmes of the new Union indeed are ambitious.
The African leaders also wanted to demonstrate they were serious about their new aims at the summit. There would be an end to the support of illegitimate regimes on the continent, they underlined. They immediately illustrated what they meant with this, condemning the "unconstitutional changes of Government" in Madagascar and calling for new elections. Most observers held Madagascar might not have been the best example of an unconstitutional government, which preferably could have been found within the attending group of leaders condemning Madagascar.
Sources: Based on AU, press reports and afrol archives