July 14, 2003

MOZAMBIQUE: AU summit makes some far-reaching decisions

Mozambique's capital, Maputo, had never seen anything like it. Endless motorcades transported over 50 African heads of state to a new conference centre to attend the second summit of the African Union (AU), from 10 to 12 July, while over 1,000 journalists arrived from all over the continent and Europe to report on the proceedings.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi delivered an impassioned closing speech about colonialism, and also claimed that HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases were not really a threat to Africa, but psychological warfare waged from abroad. HIV/AIDS was a "peaceful" virus as long as you led a "straight" life, he stated.

The rather shabby, though picturesque, Maputo was spruced up. Potholes were filled and hastily planted palm trees lined some of the major streets. Residents were able to rent out rooms for around US $100 US a day, while restaurants were full and banks stayed open late.

African leaders and delegates expressed the hope that this meeting would mark the beginning of Africa's renewal. Mozambique's President Joaquim Chissano, the new Chair of the summit, said they (the delegates) "declare war without truce against hunger, safe water scarcity, backwards and unsustainable agriculture, environmental degradation, endemic diseases, namely HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, illiteracy and economic and technological backwardness." He declared the summit a success because it demonstrated "solidarity" and a clear vision among the African leaders.

The 53 AU delegates adopted the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as the way forward. NEPAD, hailed as a vision and strategic framework for Africa's renewal, was developed by five heads of states: South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal and Algeria. Its broad aims are to eradicate poverty, to put African countries individually and collectively on the road to sustainable growth and development, to stop the marginalisation of Africa in the global context and integrate it into the global economy.

Former Malian President, Alpha Konare, was unanimously elected the first permanent chairperson and a budget of US $43 million for the 2004 financial year approved to carry out the AU's work.

Delegates declared the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis a priority. Over 1,000 adults and children die of AIDS each day in some of the worst affected countries in Africa, claiming the lives of the most productive members of society and constituting a major threat to the development of the continent. The first-ever international videoconference convened during a summit to discuss HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria brought together African heads of states, United Nations officials, AIDS experts and academics from around the world. Chissano said African leaders reaffirmed their support for the Abuja Declaration of 2001, which puts the fight against HIV/AIDS at the forefront of development plans in their respective countries, and sets a target of at least 15 percent of the annual budget allocated to improving the health sector.

Multiparty democracy was endorsed, although Chissano pointed out that Libya had its own style of leadership, with people participation. Leaders were committed to the Peer Review Mechanism as a strategy for achieving good governance. AU delegates promised to work out ways to bring "peace to the continent", and that a Peace and Security Council would soon be established. Delegates focused on the conflict situations in Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Madagascar and Liberia, but the deteriorating situation in Liberia topped the agenda. President Olusegun Obsanjo confirmed Nigeria's decision to give asylum to Liberian president Charles Taylor.

In a joint press conference Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on children and armed conflict, and Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, challenged African leaders to protect children. Women and children account for 90 percent of the half million people killed every year by small arms and light weapons. Contrary to optional protocol, Otunnu pointed out, not only are hundreds of thousands of children used as soldiers, they are also the victims of violence and abuse and often denied their basic rights, including education and health. "What we're witnessing is the self-destruction of Africa. African people must take the first line in stopping this." Bellamy said: "What is essential is that when this week ends, the spotlight does not once again turn away from Africa and its children." (IRIN)

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