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The BBC's David Bamford
"Very little detailed work has been done on how it will operate in practice"
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Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, Pan African Movement
"There are discussions around a common defence and foreign policy"
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Saturday, 26 May, 2001, 02:03 GMT 03:03 UK
African Union treaty comes into force
OAU members
The new African Union replaces the OAU
A new pan-African body, the African Union, formally comes into existence on Saturday, replacing the Organisation for African Unity.

The new body, loosely modelled on the European Union, is the brainchild of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - but the idea harks back to pan-African aspirations of the 1950s.

I would rather have a dream than suffer a nightmare, and a nightmare is what Africa is currently going through

Pan-African Movement head Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem
Kwame Nkrumah, who proclaimed Ghana independent in 1957, promoted pan-Africanism as a way for the continent to regain dignity and economic strength after being colonised.

The Pan-African Movement says that the creation of the African Union brings Nkrumah's dream of a common African currency, foreign policy, defence structure and economic programme closer to reality.

Outlines unclear

But even though nearly 40 of Africa's 53 countries have signed the treaty bringing the African Union into existence, the outlines of the project are still unclear.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya
Colonel Gaddafi has pushed for the new union
BBC correspondent David Bamford says that very little work has been done on how the African Union will operate in practice.

It is expected to have an assembly made up of the continent's heads of state and an executive council of ministers.

Saturday marks the beginning of a 12-month transition period that sees the new union taking over the headquarters - and much of the administrative staff - of the OAU.

OAU Secretary-General Dr Salim Ahmed Salim said the African Union would make a real difference to the lives of ordinary Africans.

Diversity and conflict

But sceptics point out that the continent is still wracked by conflict and home to hugely diverse populations and leaders.

The goal of erasing artificial colonial boundaries does not carry the appeal it did during decolonisation in the 1950s and 1960s.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
South Africa is one of the crucial backers of the plan
Former Ugandan diplomat James Oporia-Ekwara told the BBC he wonders how great a role Libyan money is playing in motivating the pan-African drive.

But Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, head of the Pan-African Movement, said that when people tell him African unity is a dream, "I say I would rather have a dream than suffer a nightmare, and a nightmare is what Africa is currently going through".

Pan-Africanism, he said, is "a dream that we can walk towards, that can liberate us from being the problem continent of the world".

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See also:

25 May 01 | Africa
The future of African unity
02 Mar 01 | Africa
Leaders agree on African union
11 Jul 00 | Africa
United States of Africa?
31 Oct 00 | Africa
United States of Southern Africa?
10 Jul 00 | Middle East
Gaddafi steals Lome limelight
12 Jul 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
On the trail of Colonel Gaddafi
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