|July 3, 2008
African Union defers continental government and supports SADC mediation in Zimbabwe
African leaders have deferred their discussion of a union government until January next year after failing to reach a consensus at their Summit in Egypt. A high-level expert group of 12 heads of state was established at a previous summit in Ghana, specifically to accelerate the process but consensus remains elusive.
Heads of State attending the 11th Session of the African Union (AU) Summit on 30 June and 1 July in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, decided to defer the discussion to their next summit in January 2009, to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the AU headquarter is located. At the close of the meeting, the AU said the January summit would last three days -- an exceptional case -- during which the first day would be reserved exclusively for debate on the Government of the Union. Through the discussions to date, African leaders have retained quite different perspectives on the timeframe for implementation, with Libya and some West African states including Senegal pressing for the immediate establishment of a union government and appointment of ministers.
Other countries, including South Africa, Ethiopia and others from eastern and southern Africa have adopted a more cautious approach to implementation, wanting more consensus and clarity on the operations and mandate of such a government. While the AU is agreed on the movement towards a union government, there are different views on the timing and model of governance. East and southern Africa advocates strengthening the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as building blocks, taking time to build regional economies. Libya and Senegal are insisting on immediate transformation to a United States of Africa, advocating a top-down approach starting with the formation of a union government and election of its leader as a matter of urgency, to replace the current AU Commission.
"We are going to announce the Union Government next January," Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said after the Summit. The Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, has threatened to expose those countries hampering the establishment of a union government, saying they are thwarting African unity. The areas of divergence recall the original debates at the founding Summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in May 1963 when President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana wanted immediate unification of the few countries that were independent, in a pan-African government. President Julius Nyerere of the United Republic of Tanzania was equally eloquent in advocating a "brick-by-brick" approach, starting with the pursuance of political independence for the remaining countries under colonial rule or apartheid, including the whole of southern Africa.
The new debates arose after the completion of political independence with the end of the apartheid government in South Africa in 1994, thus the achievement of political independence by the OAU and the subsequent establishment of the African Union. Another potentially divisive issue for the AU Summit was the question of Zimbabwe and the way forward following the presidential run-off election on 27 June won by the incumbent President Robert Mugabe, who attended the summit and addressed a closed session.
The resulting resolution expressed deep concern with the situation in Zimbabwe and the negative reports of election observer missions from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the AU and the Pan-African Parliament, but noted the willingness of the political leaders to enter negotiations and the preparatory discussions already underway with SADC facilitation. Considering the need to create an environment conducive for democracy and development, and considering the complexity of the situation in Zimbabwe, the African leaders decided to support the call for a government of national unity, including the SADC facilitation and its continuation.
The AU Summit Resolution on Zimbabwe called for "undivided support from SADC, the AU and the world at large", and urged SADC to establish a mechanism on the ground "in order to seize the momentum for a negotiated solution." The resolution encouraged "President Robert Mugabe and the leader of the MDC Party, Morgan Tsvangirai to honour their commitment to initiate dialogue with a view to promoting peace, stability, democracy, and the reconciliation of the Zimbabwean people," and appealed to "states and all parties concerned to refrain from any action that may negatively impact on the climate of dialogue."
The key development focus of the Summit was on water and sanitation with the theme of "Meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on Water and Sanitation." At the conclusion of the Summit, African leaders expressed their commitment to national strategies and action plans for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target for water and sanitation over the next seven years. The leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to the African Water Vision 2025, the Sirte Declaration on Agriculture and water in Africa, and the Declaration on Climate Change in Africa.
(Southern African News Features, Harare)