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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Africa's press sceptical about union
(L-R) Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, Thabo Mbeki, OAU Secretary General, Amara Essy and Robert Mugabe
Will Africa's leaders deliver?
"It is almost impossible to be hopeful or happy about the creation of the African Union (AU) this week without tempering that hope with extreme caution," says Zimbabwe's The Daily News.

The paper bases its criticism on the record of the AU's predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which it deems "irrelevant" and "moribund".


The days of one-party tin pot dictators and military potentates are gone

Daily News
"The AU has to do better than the OAU, an audit of which would indicate its success in all its endeavours was mediocre," it says.

The paper accuses the OAU of not doing enough to fight the Aids epidemic on the continent, but hopes its successor will tackle effectively another of Africa's ills, misgovernance.

Challenges

In particular, it hopes the AU will swiftly recognise Marc Ravalomanana as Madagascar's new leader, in contrast with the OAU, "or risk the accusation of being no different from the OAU, endorsing dictators and other leaders whose democratic credentials are, at the very least, suspect".

A category into which President Robert Mugabe falls, according to the newspaper.

"There is much, much unfinished business in this country before it can be said to have achieved peace and democracy under Mugabe since the presidential election last March," it says.

And the AU will face more challenges, such as poverty and its assorted corollaries, it says.

'Historic'

And it concludes: "The days of one-party tin pot dictators and military potentates are gone. Only the true freedom of all the people can ensure an end to poverty and hunger in Africa".

Algeria's El Moudjahid, in sharp contrast, is full of praise for the OAU, a "venerable" organisation, and sees the birth of its successor as a "historic" day.


Algerians felt legitimate pride

El Moudjahid
The paper says the OAU has achieved a lot over 40 years, "although memory can be short-term, selective and thankless".

El Moudjahid says the OAU has been beneficial, in spite of what it calls the organisation's "limited powers", in that it has given the impetus for the creation of the AU.

But the main cause for celebration, for El Moudjahid, is the fact that the OAU saw African nations through to independence from the former colonial powers.

And the paper stresses the praise given by the delegates in Durban to the role played by Algeria to help other African countries become independent.

'Dream'

"Algerians felt legitimate pride. They remembered, with honour and humbleness, that their country was great."

Kenya's Daily Nation speaks of a dream, albeit a shattered one.

It says the OAU's "noble goal to promote African unity, eradicate colonialism in all its forms and push for social advancement of the African people remains a mirage, 39 years after formation. So does the tantalising dream of creating a United States of Africa".

'Human factor'

It says the new organisation will first have to put its accounts in order, as it starts "on a bankrupt note", with 45 member countries out of 54 owing the organisation $54.53 million.

It says reform will also be difficult because of the human factor.


The secretary general is quite simply a colossus with feet of clay

Amara Essy, OAU
It mentions the OAU secretariat, which the AU inherits, and which has been described as a "dumping ground" for relatives of Africa's presidents.

The human factor is also blamed by the OAU secretary general, Amara Essy, in an interview published by Ivory Coast's Fraternite Matin.

"There has always been enormous tension between the OAU secretary general and his assistants and ambassadors. There is a perpetual smear campaign going on... The human aspect is really disappointing at the OAU," he says.

OAU Secretary General Amara Essy
Essy found it hard to change the OAU culture

Amara Essy says that rivalries were rife within the organisation when he took up his post, and that people-related questions could not be solved in his nine months at the helm.

"But I believe we should save our energy for a more important battle... In fact, the secretary general is quite simply a colossus with feet of clay," he says.

And he goes on to mention the logistical problems which have prevented him from carrying out his work properly, for instance, the fact that he does not have his own aircraft - he was thus unable to travel to Madagascar as quickly as he would have liked to.

Litmus test

"Name-change or game-change?" asks South Africa's Mail and Guardian.

Kathryn Sturman, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, wonders whether anything else will change after 8 July, apart from the 'O' being dropped from the name of the organisation representing African states.

The most significant difference, she says, is that the new legal framework provides for the monitoring and enforcement of democratic commitments.

Ms Sturman says that the OAU defined itself in terms of what it stood against - colonialism, apartheid, foreign dependence and interference, whilst the AU is about what it stands for - democracy, human rights, good governance and development.

But she adds that these commitments have been made before and that "on paper, there is more continuity between the OAU and the African Union than expected".

The union, she concludes, "will have to prove itself different in practice".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Durban
"All leaders here want an African union"
The historic summit should create a new African Union.

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See also:

09 Jul 02 | Africa
24 Jun 02 | Business
25 Jun 02 | Business
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