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African Union Launches; Ratification of Parliament Stymied - 2002-07-09


The official launch of the African Union is under way in Durban, South Africa. More than 30 heads of state and government attended the opening ceremony.

One by one, the leaders of African nations large and small entered the rugby stadium in Durban for the ceremony officially launching the African Union. They arrived to the thunderous applause of several thousand spectators. Despite the intense security surrounding the heads-of-state summit, the public was invited to attend the event. Many people arrived several hours early to get through the security checkpoints in time.

But this is South Africa, and the wildest round of applause was reserved for a man who is no longer in office, former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Even before its official launch, the new African Union had already started taking care of business. Its inaugural session actually took place before the dignitaries headed to the stadium for the ceremony.

The leaders received and discussed several reports, including one from African lawmakers who met in Cape Town last week. The speaker of South Africa's parliament, Frene Ginwala, spoke on their behalf.

"Members of African parliaments have asserted that the objectives of the African Union cannot be effectively realized without the full involvement of parliaments. The core principles that guide parliaments, that is, transparency, accountability, democracy and public participation, will lend positive weight to the activities of the African Union," she said.

But Ms. Ginwala also conveyed the lawmakers' concern that only four nations have so far ratified the agreement to establish a Pan-African Parliament. The parliament cannot come into being until a majority of the 52 member states have ratified that protocol.

Ms. Ginwala urged leaders to speed up the ratification process so the parliament can begin its work.

She also noted that the protocol for the Pan-African Parliament requires that every country send at least one woman as a member of its delegation. "Your excellencies, the relative absence of women at this meeting does not augur well for democracy on our continent," Ms. Ginwala said.

Ms. Ginwala urged the leaders to follow the parliamentarians' example and make sure the delegations for their next meeting are more representative.

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