News and Information

Africa: AU Summit: a Summing Up
July 9, 2004

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

July 9, 2004
Posted to the web July 9, 2004

Addis Ababa

It was billed as a summit at which a new future for Africa would be unveiled. Alpha Oumar Konare, the chairman of the African Union Commission, spelt out his US $1.7-billion strategic plan for revitalising the troubled and marginalised continent.

But as the three-day session closed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, once again it was conflict, stalled peace deals, atrocities and instability which had dominated the agenda.

In the last 40 years, conflicts have cost Africa seven million lives and $250 billion, according to the AU. And, during the summit, leaders agreed that for so long as wars continued to plague the continent, development would remain a pipe dream.

So, after Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the incoming AU chairman, officially closed the summit on Thursday, it was fringe meetings devoted to conflict he focused on.

Obasanjo, whose country commands one of the strongest voices in the AU, said during those meetings, "frank, hard-hitting discussions" had been held on the subjects of conflict and poverty. Referring to the tough stance the AU had adopted on hot spots like Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), he said: "These issues demonstrate our determination to be proactive. Without peace, there is no development."

During these mini-summits, leaders agreed to send an 300-strong armed protection force into western Sudan to try to stabilise the Darfur region and restore confidence among civilians.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Konare brokered plans for renewed talks between the government and rebel forces in Cote d'Ivoire to be held the end of the month.

During the main proceedings of the summit, a number of proposals on tackling poverty and disease, as well as on enhancing women's rights, were agreed on. The AU will site its $30-million pan-African parliament in South Africa. Heads of state won plaudits for engaging in their first-ever debate on gender. The fight against diseases ravaging the continent also took centre stage. Declarations were issued backing the role of women, and urging that current EU reforms of the common agricultural policy should not adversely affect Africa.

And five more countries subscribed to the much-heralded African Peer Review Mechanism, which rates their performance on everything from human rights to economic transparency, bringing the number of signed-up countries to 22.

But as the 38 leaders who attended the summit flew out of Addis Ababa, the question of who would pay remained unanswered. The Peace and Security Council, a key weapon in the AU's arsenal, will cost $200 million a year. The peace mission in Darfur alone will cost $26 million. Currently, however, just $1.6 million is being paid into the AU peace fund by member states.

And while heads of state endorsed Konare's ambitious and costly three-year strategic plan to launch Africa into the 21st century, they stopped short of committing themselves to his proposed $600 million annual budget. Instead, they decided that the thorny issue of who paid what would be thrashed out by their foreign ministers, who would meet to discuss the issue in November.

The challenge the leaders have set themselves is enormous. Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) is dwarfed by its debt. More than 40 percent of Africa's 830 million people live on less than $1 a day, and hunger and AIDS are widespread. About 6,500 Africans die each day of AIDS, while, as the conference was told, 200 million others faced chronic hunger.

Africa accounts for just 1 percent of foreign direct investment, 1 percent of world GDP and 2 percent of world trade, which has also been declining.

Member states have paid up only $13 million of the AU's $43 million annual budget this year. Seven countries face AU sanctions - including Central African Republic, DRC and Guinea Bissau - for nonpayment of AU dues, thereby losing their voting rights. Meanwhile, the AU's home-grown economic rescue plan, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, will cost a staggering $64 billion a year.

Although foreign aid to the continent has slightly increased to $22 billion a year. Obasanjo and Konare both conceded that this is an enormous of money, but even if it were doubled, Konare said, and the continent's entire debt was wiped out, Africa would still face a $19 billion shortfall.

Obasanjo said the chances of many African nations meeting the 2015 anti-poverty targets, known as the Millennium Development Goals, were slim. He told journalists that without the support of the international community, the AU would have to struggle, just as did its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

The cash-strapped OAU was widely criticised for failing to address crises on the continent, and leaders are keen not to see the AU go the same way. But Obasanjo also pointed to a litany of unkept promises by rich nations, and argued that they too, and not just African countries, should be placed under the spotlight.

"Africa is suffering an injustice," he said. Debt, massive agricultural subsidies to the tune of $1 billion a day and unfair trade rules hampered development in Africa, he added. "If only they would subsidise less, by, say, 25 percent, that would be US $90 billion available to be taken up," he told a news conference at the end of the summit.

Obasanjo also said calls on the eve of the summit on African countries to refuse to pay the $201-billion debt crippling the continent were "unrealistic". "How many countries can afford to say, 'to hell with it, we will not pay'? Tomorrow aid will be cut off, everything will be cut off," he warned.

AU leaders believe the finances needed to create a new-look Africa and AU can be raised by way of member states paying 0.5 percent of their national budgets. Other ideas include taxes on air travel between member states, and floating AU bonds on financial markets. The private sector, too, is to be urged to provide funds.

Yet, despite the shortfall in cash, optimism still obtains. "There's no point being sceptical about Africa, because we have found our way forward," Desmond Orjiako, the AU spokesman, told IRIN. "Any scepticism at this time, no matter who it comes from, cannot work, because we are determined."


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