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Leaders Debate Unified African State at AU Summit


Many heads of state are advocating a moderate, step-by-step approach to continental integration at the African Union summit in Ghana's capital, Accra. The summit, which continues until Tuesday, aims to debate the possibility of forming a single African state. For VOA, Naomi Schwarz has more from Dakar.

Dozens of African heads of state, including Libya's president Muammar Gaddafi, South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak are in attendance at the African Union Summit in Ghana.

Africa Confidential analyst Patrick Smith says it is one of the best attended AU summits ever.

"I think one of the reasons is it has got a historical significance, because this is the 50th year since Ghana became independent, and is regarded as a key date in African history," said Smith.

But Smith says another reason for the high attendance is the topic at hand: pan-continental unity, or as Mr. Gaddafi has called it, the United States of Africa. The idea, espoused by Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, has been periodically debated ever since.

Smith says meetings have shown that most heads of state are in favor of continental unity. They see the European Union and the United States of America as examples of the power that can come from regional cooperation.

But Smith says few heads of state support the radical, all-in-one approach advocated by Mr. Gaddafi, who toured several West African states last week drumming up support for his proposal.

"You have got a sort of continuum of views from the more moderate, piece by piece view that president Thabo Mbeki of South Africa is espousing, saying that you have got to build the foundation to the house before you can put the roof on it, and then you have got the do it all in one go, right away, which is the view espoused by the leader of Libya," said Smith.

The discussions aim to address all aspects of the issue, from philosophical questions to logistical ones, such as how to integrate the governance of more than 50 countries, on a continent still divided by war and struggling with poverty and development issues.

But many Africans say there are many more important issues to discuss than continental unity.

"I think that before having a continental government we have some problems to resolve, like [the] Darfur crisis, like a lot of issues. I think that realistically, it is not the time to discuss it, if we want to have a very efficient body," said Saidou Arji is, a Ghana-based human rights activist.

Arji says other important issues to discuss include the situation in Zimbabwe, whose citizens are suffering from crippling unemployment, rising fuel and food prices, and the world's highest inflation rate. Human rights issues across the continent also are high on his agenda, including in Libya.

Smith says many of these issues will be addressed at least briefly over the course of the summit. Mr. Mbeki has said he will deliver a progress report on negotiations in Zimbabwe, and the heads of state will also need to discuss financing for the proposed cooperative peacekeeping force from the African Union and the United Nations in Darfur.

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