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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Cautious welcome for African Union
Africa Media Watch
The founding of a new African Union at the summit of African leaders in the Zambian capital Lusaka was felt by much of the continent's press to be a promising move - but many papers warned that the new organisation faced enormous challenges.

The Times of Zambia took a relatively upbeat view, hailing the summit and its outcome as "a momentous gathering and a momentous transformation".

The African Union promises a new beginning for this continent which for centuries has borne the tag of Dark Continent

The Times of Zambia
It said Zambia was honoured to have hosted the event at which the old Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was transformed into the African Union (AU), and went on to congratulate the participants.

"Bravo and our heartfelt welcome to all Heads of State and heads of government who have answered the call. Such unity is necessary if the AU is to succeed.

"The AU, whatever form it takes, promises a new beginning for this continent which for centuries has borne the tag of Dark Continent."

Dream or reality?

Uganda's New Vision was of the opinion that it would take a long time for the AU to realise its full potential, but felt that the founding of the organisation was at least a step in the right direction.

Africa has to start somewhere

New Vision, Uganda
"A century ago those who wanted a European Union were considered wild dreamers. Forty years ago the European Economic Community took off. Now the European Union is about to become a single market and move towards political integration," the paper said.

"It will take a long time to set up a fully functioning African Union. But Africa has to start somewhere.

"Africa has taken the first necessary and historic steps... towards achieving the political and economic unity that will finally overturn the carve-up of Africa by the Treaty of Berlin over a century ago," it concluded.

The Kenyan Nation also gave a cautious welcome to the new body.

"Even as we celebrate the birth of the African Union, we must accept that the road towards transforming the OAU from a political organisation into an economic entity will be rocky," it said.

Good intentions

The South African Star was even more sceptical over the new organisation's prospects.

"The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) is dead; long live the African Union (AU)," an editorial entitled "A rose by any other name" began.

To change the homely OAU pumpkin into a golden carriage will require a huge change of heart

The Star, South Africa
"That the 38-year-old OAU has outlived its utility, few would dispute. Whether the AU can do much better is still moot," the paper said.

It commended the wording of the AU's mission statement, "A New African Initiative", saying that the ambitious plans outlined in the statement went far beyond anything ever envisaged by the old OAU.

"At least the intentions are now sound. The OAU never even aspired to the 'respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance' which are now enshrined among the AU's principles," The Star said.

"But to change the homely OAU pumpkin into such a golden carriage will require a huge change of heart," it warned.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Mr Mugabe poses a challenge for the new African Union
"That attitudes have not yet changed to reflect the new ethos of the AU was evident in Lusaka when the OAU backed President Robert Mugabe's illegal land grab - a clear violation of the AU's 'respect for the rule of law'."

The Star said that unless the AU was prepared to get tough with states that violated its guiding principles, it could not hope to live up to its aims.

"This blind solidarity, which was the hallmark of the OAU, will have to go if the AU is to succeed," the paper cautioned.

"It is modelled roughly on the European Union, but with one glaring difference. The EU admits only real democracies," it added.

Bad timing

Many African papers felt that the greatest immediate challenge facing the new body was how to respond to the occupation of farmland by Zimbabwean war veterans - and the implications of this for neighbouring South Africa's own land crisis.

It is disappointing that the launch of the new African Union should be marked by an endorsement of violent, state-sponsored land grabs

Business Day, South Africa
South Africa's Business Day, like The Star, was of the opinion that the OAU foreign ministers' declaration of support last weekend for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe would only serve to undermine international confidence in the successor organisation.

"The decision to support Robert Mugabe... in his thuggish attempt to retain power under the pretext of land redistribution could scarcely be more ineptly timed," the paper said.

"It is disappointing that the launch of the new African Union should be marked by an endorsement of violent, state-sponsored land grabs.

"The resolution hardly chimes with the lofty aims of the Africa recovery plan, which include the strengthening of democratic institutions on the continent," it added.

A political football?

The Sowetan noted that what it described as "the domino effect created by the recent land crisis in Zimbabwe" had focused attention on South Africa's own struggles to implement a land reform programme.

And South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian said that no-one emerged with credit from the dispute over the Bredell squatter camp, when thousands of homeless people were evicted from unused land they had been encouraged to occupy by the opposition Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

Children at Bredell squatter camp near Johannesburg
Innocent pawns: homeless children awaiting eviction
"Few people or institutions come out of the Bredell confrontation well," the paper said.

"The government and its policies, the Pan Africanist Congress and the ruling African National Congress and its allies have, each in its own way, demonstrated breathtaking disregard for the plight and purposes of the hundreds of families who settled on this stretch of vacant land outside Kempton Park that belongs to others."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

09 Jul 01 | Africa
Farewell to the OAU
12 Jul 01 | Africa
Police evict SA squatters
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