Home | News    Friday 27 February 2004

African leaders urged to resolve issues of water, agriculture, defence


By Anthony Morland and Jean-Pierre Campagne

SIRTE, Libya, Feb 27 (AFP) — Presidents from across Africa gathered for an extraordinary summit of the African Union to discuss issues of water, agriculture and defence, deemed crucial to the development of the world’s poorest continent.

"There cannot be any development unless we have a general environment of peace, security and stability," AU Chairman and Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano told the summit.

Alpha Oumar Konare, the former president of Mali who is now chairman of the AU Commission, told delegates the continent needs "an African standby force (ASF) that can be operational and respond rapidly to any crisis."

There are well-developed plans for a first phase of the ASF to be up and running by next year. Its envisaged roles range from providing humanitarian assistance to intervening in a country suffering "grave circumstances" such as genocide or other crimes against humanity.

Libyan President Moamer Kadhafi, who had called for and organized the summit and is a driving force behind the AU, had put forward a much bolder plan: the merging of all of Africa’s government forces into a single army.

But foreign ministers meeting ahead of the summit politely deemed this idea "ahead of its time."

A consensus lies at the heart of the AU’s founding principles: that the continent’s security depends on a multilateral system of monitoring developing crises and collective responses.

The ASF will be the operational arm of the AU’s Peace and Security Council, which is due to be set up this year.

"Peace must be the foundation of our continent. We must do away with the unacceptable situation of child soldiers and fight for the respect of human rights and against impunity," said Konare, dressed in a traditional white boubou.

He went on to recall that "more than 450 million Africans, half the continent’s population, lack access to safe drinking water."

Addressing this urgent issue is "one of the 21st century’s greatest challenges in delivering sustainable development."

Discussions adjourned about 5:30 pm ( 1530 GMT), with the adoption of the so-called Sirte Declaration on Implementing Integrated and Sustainable Development, and talks were due to continue on security issues after a break.

One delegate from Mauritania told reporters there were no real points of conflict to be resolved at summit level, as these had been ironed out during preliminary ministerial discussions.

The summit was opened by Kadhafi, whose remarks, like those of his peers, were punctuated — and sometimes drowned out — by a chorus of "Africa for Africans!" and similar slogans shouted by a Libyan section of the auditorium.

The heads of state were driven to the doors of the summit venue in golf carts.

Much of the Libyan leader’s speech harked back to Africa’s harsh past under European powers: "They hunted us as animals and sold us as slaves."

But he expressed optimism that "the African continent is continuing its march on the international scene. The best proof of this is our capacity to transform the Organisation of African Unity into the African Union."

"Africa is making great strides to show that it is a liberated continent and not a continent of slaves," Kadhafi declared. "The most important thing is that we should not allow colonialism in whatever form to return to Africa."

"The Europeans have learned the lessons of the bitter experience of their colonialist past. The United States is called upon to abandon a colonialist mentality and take the road already chosen by the Europeans on the continent," he added.

On Thursday, Washington lifted a 23-year-old travel ban on Libya.

The leaders of Africa’s most politically and economically important countries, such as South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, Algeria and Egypt, were present at the summit.

President Issaias Afeworki of Eritrea and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, whose relations are still very tense more than three years after the end of a devastating war in the Horn of Africa, were both in Sirte, but despite also being alphabetical neighbours, they were separated by half a dozen or so seats.

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