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General News of Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Source: Asare Otchere-Darko

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IT LOOKS LIKE THE AU GRADUALISTS HAVE IT

Reports of a stunning defection on the second day of the African Union Summit appears to have given the Thabo Mbeki-led Gradualist forces the ammunition they need to carry the day against the Instantists on the question of when a "United Africa” will be created.

The Statesman's highly placed sources say that late in the afternoon the strong pragmatic arguments of the Gradualists managed to convince AU Commission chair Alpha Oumar Konare to cross the floor - sounding a death knell for the Instantists" position. Indeed, there were hints of Gradualism in his opening speech Sunday.

Yesterday, about 17 countries, including Benin, Guinea, Egypt, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the Gambia put their various viewpoints across. Robert Mugabe, according to sources, put up t6he strongest case, giving a lesson of the history of the continent to achieve unity. While calling on the his colleagues to speed up the process, he also opted for the gradualist approach, calling on the leadership to leave Accra with clear time lines.

The debate went on till 9pm Monday, keeping other dignitaries and their stomachs waiting for about three hours for the AU Banquet, which took place at the State House, closing at midnight. President Kufuor could be seen last night sandwiched between Mugabe and Gaddafi at the dinner, chatting happily. The debate continues today.

Though the Gambian president thought it unwise to attend the summit personally, afraid of Ghanaian reaction to the unresolved killings of about 40 Ghanaians in his country by suspected security personnel two year ago, his Vice President reminded the leaders that integration was a “process and not an event.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi called on the other leaders to stop wasting time by creating an unrealistic division between the so-called instantists and gradualists. He put it bluntly: “There’s only one position – of the practicalists.” Countries supporting the ‘radical’ approach who spoke yesterday included Benin and Guinea.

Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi was yet to put his 'Union Government Now’ point across at the time of going to press. Our diplomatic sources said the Libyan leader was still working feverishly behind the scenes to ‘buy’ some countries to his side in a last ditch attempt to save his Instantist position.

About 6pm, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, another strong voice for the Instantists, came out of the plenary session to the VIP lounge, with a kind of tired, defeatist look, though not too far out from his usual demeanour. The key to Konare’s defection appears to have been promises from the Gradualist forces to accelerate plans for economic integration. Those apparently include the positive moves to adopt a firm and clear time-table for the creation of a common market.

One diplomatic source described the progress being made at the AU Summit as “far beyond expectations of the sceptics.” Remarkable progress appears to have been made towards getting the attending leaders to agree to a time-table for, what one source described as "realistic but radical integration process."

Crucial to the compromise being reached is the creation of a framework for strengthening the Regional Economic Commissions. By giving the RECs more power the Gradualists hope to simplify the process of moving goods, services and people across borders. The deal also seems to call for a commitment to introducing a common currency, something the Instantists had marked as "key" to making the deal. Though, what may be agreed is likely to be single currencies within the main RECs. There are currently about 8 overlapping RECs on the continent.

Earlier this week Gaddafi told reporters that the "micro-state was dead" and he has been arguably the Instantists’ highest profile supporter, calling for the AU to move towards a United States of Africa without any delay. However, it seems as if the Libyan leader will end up on the wrong side of the ledger, as sources say only the Senegalese remain firmly in his camp.

In addition Monday’s closed meetings, which went on beyond the scheduled time for the AU banquet, seem to have resulted in a consensus regarding the Court of Justice, with most African leaders reportedly on the verge of agreeing, not only to a framework that would allow the Court to serve as the fundamental body for enforcing human rights across the continent, but also to have it fully implemented within a year. Such a body could be used to help cope with alleged abuses in sovereign nations across Africa.

The sudden change in the wind may sit uncomfortably with President Kufour. In his speech to the assembly the President expressed concern over feelings in some quarters that Africa was not ready for integration.

His call for co-ordination and streamlining of the activities and policies of the RECs to "service the central institutions of the African Union" has been overwhilemingly adopted. At last night, the lingering issue, according to our sources was the details of the coordination.

What appeared to be winning the day, was the proposal put forward by The Statesman, among others, that a common AU framework should be built for the RECs, leaving the regional bodies to serve merely but significantly as implementers along the principles of subsidiarity.

The historic agreement is coming as several prominent members of the Diaspora appealed to the summit on the importance of Africa moving quickly to introduce unity.

Speaking at a press conference Monday, the legendary civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson commented on the need for Africa to strongly consider the Instantist position.

"The world is moving too fast for Africa to wait" the Reverend stated, adding that "when you are behind you have to run faster." The Reverend also came out in favour of a common currency. "Except for the Rand African currencies can’t be spent anywhere, they are seen as (basically) counterfeit." He added "The United States has many cultures, but the dollar is the common language, Europe has many languages but the euro is the common message."

And the Reverend praised the decision to bring economic integration to Africa saying such a strategy would benefit the continent’s people if it was used to allow freedom of movement, shared security and universal education across Africa. At the same conference Khalid al-Mansour also made an impassioned plea for AU leaders to turn down the rhetoric and step up the action. "There is no time to wait, we must free ourselves, and realise globalisation is here to stay. The world is moving at such a pace that Africa cannot afford to delay."

He also called upon Africa’s leaders to "set a date to fulfil the destiny of our people," closely mirroring the action going on behind closed doors.

While both leading voices of the Diaspora took the side of the Instantists, the substance of their submissions seemed more in tune with the gradualists. Rev Jackson’s call for a single currency for Africa can only be achieved after individual countries achieve setting convergence criteria, experiences both here and in Europe have shown that it takes time and fiscal discipline to meet such criteria.

Both men also saw globalisation as the latest challenge and that Africa becoming an effective player in it would mark the final emancipation of the African. This is also the view of the Gradualists who call for a common market on the continent, pushing for the establishment and strengthening of the institutions and programmes that will make a common market effective.

Dr Khalid is regarded in many quarters as an intellectual firebrand. He has accused the United States of committing genocide for its role in the slave trade, and claims that the accomplishments of the Black Diaspora have been overlooked by most of the world. American jazz legend Herbie Hancock also highlighted creativity as a crucial element for development. UK-based fashion designer Ozwald Boateng also added his voice to the debate.

Chris Cleverly, also a UK-based entrepreneur from the Diaspora, said India and China are able to raise their economies because of their high appreciation of knowledge and skills. He urged Africans to emulate that formula, too, and that Africans in the Diaspora are finding innovative ways to push the united development agenda forward.

Those energies were given a dose of legitimacy in Ghana as Erica Bennett revealed that President Kufour had given the Disaporan Forum formal diplomatic status. She highlighted the role being played by Africans in the Diaspora towards the cotinent’s quest for prosperity.

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