New African Union
by Steve Lawton The Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which met for the 37th time last month in Lusaka, Zambia, was historic in that it decided to create a new organisation called the African Union. African nations are in the course of making a comprehensive reappraisal of the priorities of the African continent. Libya's leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who first projected the need for change at a special OAU conference in September 1999, led the initiative for a new organisation. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan paid tribute to him for "spearheading this development". Since then a number of governments have been engaged in formulating an Africa-wide political, economic and social framework that would tackle both continental survival and real development. In Lusaka the 53 state leaders and ministers agreed to merge two major strands into the New African Initiative: The Millennium African Recovery Plan headed by South African President Thabo Mbeki, and the Omega Plan led by Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade. An all-Africa parliament, executive council and central bank are to be created. They hope to have everything up and running by the time of the next AU summit in South Africa next year. Collective approach With about three-quarters of the world's worst off nations, Africa has little choice but to take an active collective approach. It has major pandemics afflicting and killing millions, widespread destitution, persistent wars that affect half of the African states and depletion of the resources for the benefit of transnationals at the expense of its peoples. The global realignment of imperialism between the US and the European Union, and Asian regional economic co-ordination with China at its heart, has led African leaders to seek a more effective place on the international stage. China's Premier Zhu Rongji sent the conference a solidarity message lauding the OAU's history since 1963 of struggling for African solidarity, unity, national independence and liberation. He linked China's co-operation with the modern initiative for greater African integration, to the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation held in Beijing last October. That set out a new basis of working together as the OAU began its transformation. Outgoing OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim said the changes were necessary if there was to be any chance of achieving "a stronger and united continent". They have "no other option but to remain together because separately none of us can make it, and individual linkages with the outside world are not viable", he said. Zimbabwe It is therefore not surprising that African leaders slammed the British Government for leading an international effort to "isolate and vilify" Zimbabwe as it proceeds with its land reform program. "This is not the way Africa works", the Ugandan High Commissioner, George Kirya, said. "We work in a collective manner. We find there are some people who are trying to isolate Zimbabwe." He said Europe and the US are "siding with Britain and I think this is why the leaders in Africa are saying that this problem ought to be solved, and they can only do it if they collectively find a solution to it." Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe insists that Britain is liable for the payment of compensation for expropriated land, while the British Government barely disguises its hostility, refusing to recognise the way the reform is carried out. The 12 million of 30 million hectares of land designated for 5,000 black landless inhabitants was never likely to be given up by the white farmers through a gentleman's agreement. The very idea of this land reform is anathema to capitalist property relations and the powerful precedent it sets. From moves to isolate Zimbabwe to the threat of sanctions, we see that when real challenges occur, global vested interests always attempt to stick the boot in. That is why the AU is defending Zimbabwe and is intent on taking the offensive. Even though there is some progress in achieving a cessation of conflict in some African countries, these have often been short-lived. So the effectiveness of the AU's members over the coming year is crucial for its legitimacy. The collective solution of Africa's problems ultimately rests with re- drawing the economic relationship with the big capitalist powers and the transnationals. A former UN development-director Bimal Ghosh pointed out in the "International Herald Tribune" (11.7.01) that "African countries will find it hard to diversify their economies if rich nations continue to impose higher tariffs when Africans strive to process their own raw materials for export abroad as part of their belated move toward industrialisation and technological upgrading". On the other hand, China has just announced a cut in Tanzania's and Zanzibar's debts and arranged no-strings loans. The new Chairman of the OAU, Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, said: "With the ongoing unprecedented acceleration of technological change and the consequences of globalisation with its attendant competitiveness, regional economic co-operation assumes even greater importance and urgency." The AU initiative, set against efforts to re-fashion the role of drug transnationals in South Africa and beyond, is a clear pointer suggesting that more strident action is to follow.
* * *The New Worker