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African Union: Old wine in new skins?

Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com, The Black Business Journal and NigeriaCentral.com  
This essay also appeared on the op-ed page of the Houston Chronicle on Monday July 15, 2002.


The color, pomp and pageantry which heralded the creation of the African Union on July 9, 2002,  in the beautiful city of Durban, South Africa, fit a familiar pattern in the scandalous bifurcation of life and quests for progress in the continent where I derive my proud heritage: lots of promise but not much to show in actual, functional substance by the leaders!

In less than 24 hours of its establishment with South African President Thabo Mbeki as host and new leader, th
e African Union (AU) is already betraying itself, in fact, methods and protocol, as the biblical saying goes: old wine in new skins!

Why you wonder do I raise such skepticism for the AU, successor to the now defunct Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) established May 1963?

The AU leaders' first decision sought to protect one of buddies, the electorally-defeated former president of Madagascar Admiral Didier Ratsiraka by upholding the controversial position of its predecessor, the now moribund OAU refusing to recognize the popularly elected pro-U.S. Marc Ravalomanana. Ratsiraka ruled for over 23 years; yes 23!
 
On Wednesday, June 26, 2002, the U.S. State Department supported Ravalomanana because the Constitutional Madagascar court had affirmed him as the winner of the 2002 presidential elections.

In a counter-comment drenching with pitiful irony during the July  9 establishment of the AU, Nigeria's leader and retired army General Olusegun Obasanjo said "Anybody (translation: the populist Marc Ravalomanana) who comes to power unconstitutionally cannot sit with us."

 The same Obasanjo, who sat and directed, from 1976-1979, as an unconstitutional military dictator in OAU's meetings, not only lost in his own local ward and district but his entire southwest region in the same (s)elections.

Note that Ravalomanana drew more than 3 times the comparative support Gen. Obasanjo got in his 1999 controversial (s)election in Nigeria.

It's equally important to underscore the point that 66-years old Admiral Ratsiraka's long-running presidency merely secured a 'win' in 1996 with a thin, controversial  50.7 per cent against Albert Zafy's 49.3 per cent. But that's just a tip of how the Obasanjos have put a bold face forward and, by some unique grace, U.S. President George W. Bush looks at leaders like him "in their eyes and believes" their every word.

Makes you wonder how long the Obasanjo old boys' club in the OAU-AU will overrule the true constitutional, popular and democratic voices of the people.

It is revealing that United States, France and Germany have recognized Marc but not his "brother" African presidents. The latter are scared of "people power" in their forthcoming elections -- as we saw early this summer of 2002 in the islands of Madagascar where a popular Mayor, defiantly, through "people power" saw that All the voters were counted and announced.

Note, too that Obasanjo has started running for an early 2003 unpredictable reelection. If he wins, it will be his 3rd time ruling Nigeria.

Another issue: I believe it's the African political economy, stupid!

The reforms required  in Africa to develop along the lines  of the 21st century must:

-ensure a harmonization of local developmental needs and
international market forces;

-vigorously  reconsider  the crushing 'debt burden' and recognize that the net export of capital to the West ruins Africa's development.  Recent economic realities of Africa bear out my thesis. In 1981,  the African continent made a net capital export of US$5.3 billion to the West; US$21.5 billion in 1985; in 1988 it hit US$36 billion or US$100 million per day while it zoomed to US$150 billion in 2000.  

-recognize that internal corruption will continue to undermine Africa's progress. Some of the presidents, and commanders-in-chief (a few really are commanders-in-thief) are distinguished for being personifications of state-sponsored serial incompetence and squandermania; among them are monomaniacal egocrats who masquerade as democrats. They frittered  away the pastel promises, plans and grand pan-Africanist vision of the likes of Nigeria's Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, Tanzania's Julius Nyerere, Senegal's Leopold Sedar Senghor and the rock-ribbed statesman Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

-treat the AIDS crises as a three-fold issue: health and lifestyle problem, socio-economic obstacle to development and as a national security challenge.

-enforce real democratic reforms as opposed to mediocre, multiple tenures from rigged elections for these long-serving leaders whose ineptitude and personal glories have since run counter to the better interests of our continent and long-suffering citizens.

-treat time management as a critical issue in Africa's poverty and/or progress. This problem is evident at home and abroad, as it is among the materially poor and most of the so-called educated elite.  

I'll conclude by recalling how a unique spin of 'African Time' occurred during the AU's summit on July 10 blew open the cracks in the AU protocols and exposed its poor communications and organizational capacity. Nigeria's Obasanjo told journalists "I believe that the point of view for an ordinary summit a year from now carried the day." A few hours later, the Mbeki's, basically, overruled him at a news conference stating the next summit "will take place in six months" time. What I'm telling you is a resolution of the summit."

Now, my friends, do you believe the retired Gen. Obasanjo or the AU leader Mbeki? It's the African Time, stupid! Go figure.


Chido Nwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), is Founder and Publisher of first African-owned U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published on the internet, USAfricaonline.com. He appears as an analyst on CNN's Inside Africa and publishes Houston-based USAfrica The Newspaper, NigeriaCentral.com and The Black Business Journal. Nwangwu serves as an adviser to the Mayor of Houston on international business (Africa)


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