Africa makes historic Sirte II Declaration of the African Union

Mar 03, 2001 01:00 AM

After two days of deliberations on the way forward for their marginalized continent, African leaders took the bull by the horns in an historic Sirte II Declaration of the African Union at the Libyan city. "The Assembly of Heads of State and government proudly declares the African Union by a unanimous decision," OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim said at the end of the continental body's 5th Extra-ordinary Summit.
The Declaration, which climaxed a journey of 17 months from Sirte I, when the Union idea was unveiled in September 1999, could transform the dream of the region and its people, especially Libyan leader Col. Moammar Kadhafi, who could not hide his emotions after Salim had read the four-point statement.
Neither could the gathering at one of the many Halls of the ultra-modern multi-million-dollar Ouagadougou Sirte Complex, which greeted the Declaration with spontaneous cheers, to which the leader of the 1969 Libyan Revolution attired in a wine-colour African flowing gown (Boubou)and cap to match, acknowledged with clenched fists and Black Power salute.
In the Hall were hundreds of foreign journalists, who had come to record history made. Video and still cameras rolled and clicked away, while print journalists jotted down notes chronicling, arguably, Africa's story of the new century.

One supporter chanted praises in Arabic, of an elated Kadhafi, who was delighted at seeing his dream of a United States of Africa almost realised. Sanctioned by the West and largely misunderstood by many, for his non-conformist principles based on a Socialist System eloquently espoused in his famous Green Book, the Libyan leader has committed as much to Pan-Africanism as to Pan-Arabism.
To ensure mass participation at the just-ended Sirte II meetings, he paid off more than $ 4 mm in contribution arrears, owed by 10 member states to the OAU. This was in addition to the lavish hospitality showered on delegates to Libya-hosted meetings.
The high-spending meetings included the 65th OAU's Council of Ministers session in 1997, the first of such meetings to be held outside the continental Organisation's Addis Ababa headquarters. Held at the heat of sanctions on Libya following political and diplomatic tensions with the West, over the 1988 downing of the American Pan Am flight 103 that killed 270 people off the Scottish city of Lockerbie, the OAU Council meeting was taken to Tripoli to show African solidarity with Kadhafi and his oil-rich country, with an estimated 5 mm people.

After hosting the 4th OAU Extra-ordinary Summit, or Sirte I, which conceived the African Union in September 1999, Libya also hosted preparatory meetings to Sirte II, by Ambassadors accredited to the OAU and the Council of Ministers, 22-26 February in Tripoli. The OAU did not disappoint Kadhafi at Sirte II either.
On the recommendation of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who brokered an agreement under which Libya agreed to handover for trial, two of its nationals suspected of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing, the Summit issued a strong statement condemning the non-lift of the UN 1992 sanctions on the North African country.
In his speech to the Summit, Mandela revealed that it had been agreed that after the trial, the sanctions involving sea, air and land embargo would be lifted. One of the Libyans was sentenced to life jail, while the other was acquitted, but Libya has denounced the trial and rejected the suggestion by London and Washington, that Tripoli take responsibility and pay huge compensations to the bombed flight 103 victims.
The Libyan leader hailed the Sirte II Declaration, which is to be given greater vent at the OAU's July 2001, 37th Summit in Lusaka, Zambia, as the "beginning of a new balance of power," in a uni-polar world, where the US, Tripoli's arch-enemy holds sway. But Kadhafi is not alone in his near obsession and relentless campaign for greater unity in Africa, which continues to embrace and warm up to him, even when the West intensifies efforts to ostracise or encourage others to shun him.

OAU chairman and Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, one of the longest serving African leaders, described Sirte II Declaration as "victory and an ambitious step towards the African Union." President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan of Somalia, whose country returned to the OAU after a 10-year civil war-induced absence, spoke in the same view in an interview with PANA. He said African should move towards greater unity and integration.
For his part, President Frederick Chiluba welcomed African leaders to Lusaka in July to consummate the Union, which becomes operational 30 days after 36 or two-thirds of OAU members have ratified the Constitutive Act. Thirty-two countries ratified the Act at Sirte II, while 53 countries signed up, remaining Morocco, which has suspended its membership of the OAU over Western Sahara territorial dispute.
Rushing the Union into force without the mandatory ratification would have amounted to an unconstitutional act, hence the compromise on the Sirte II Declaration. Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir told PANA, it was important to insist on rules in order to give confidence and legality to the institutions of the Union. The big question now is, after the Sirte II Declaration, what next for Africa and its more than 600 mm people?

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