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African Leaders Pledge Sustainable Growth and Development

More than 40 African heads of state have wrapped up the final summit of the Organization of African Unity and agreed to establish an African Union, which will be launched at its inaugural summit in South Africa next year. The leaders have also adopted a new plan called the African Initiative to promote growth and development on the continent.

Thirty-eight years after it was founded to fight colonialism and apartheid, the Organization of African Unity is in the last months of its existence. At its final summit just ended in Lusaka, Zambia, African leaders agreed to replace it by an African Union, loosely modeled on the European Union.

The new African Union will be officially launched in South Africa next year. It will include a parliament, a court of justice and a central bank. Newly elected Secretary General Amara Essy will pilot the transformation of the OAU into the African Union.

Also at the 3-day summit, Burundian President Pierre Buyoya, announced that he would honor a power-sharing agreement brokered by former South African President Nelson Mandela to try to bring to an end the civil war in Burundi. According to terms of the deal, which must still be accepted by all parties, Mr. Buyoya will remain President of Burundi for the first 18 months of a three-year transition period. He will be succeeded by a Hutu president who will lead the country during the second half of the transition.

The African leaders have also adopted an ambitious plan, known as the African Initiative, to put their countries on a path of sustainable growth and development. The plan aims to consolidate democracy and sound economic management on the continent and, through it, the leaders pledge to hold each other accountable in terms of the agreements contained in the program.

The agreements in the African Initiative include achieving - and then sustaining for 15 years - an average growth rate of seven percent or higher. By the year 2015, African leaders aim to reduce by half the number of people living in extreme poverty, enroll all school-age children in primary school, reduce infant and child mortality rates by two-thirds and cut maternal mortality by three quarters.

The plan also calls on individual states to implement strategies for sustainable development by the year 2005 so that the loss of environmental resources can be reversed by the year 2015.

The leaders have agreed to other programs in a number of key areas. The first on their list is the fight against HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases.

The Africa Initiative stipulates that preconditions for development include peace, security, and democracy. The leaders have agreed to take joint responsibility for conflict prevention, and to promote and protect democracy and human rights in their respective countries.