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Africa Union Summit Meeting to Focus on Establishing Political Offices - 2003-07-06

The second summit of the African Union opens this week in the Mozambican capital, Maputo.

The African Union was launched a year ago in Durban, South Africa, replacing the 38-year-old Organization of African Unity, which was considered largely ineffective.

Delegates to this week's meeting are expected to approve the main political organs of the Union. "The Maputo Summit is expected to elect the Commission of the African Union," said Ambassador Said Djinnit, the African Union's assistant secretary general for political affairs. "The second thing is the leaders are expected to review progress, as far as the establishment of the organs of the African Union is concerned. They should receive a progress report on the establishment of the Pan-African Parliament, and they will also receive a report on the establishment of the court of justice."

The summit comes at a time when the crisis in Liberia is dominating the news. Ambassador Djinnit acknowledged Africa has had a difficult time resolving its many conflicts. But he said there is a greater determination among African leaders to push ahead with peace efforts.

"Yes, we have conflicts, but for every conflict there is a peace process. We have an ongoing peace process. So on the whole, at least, African leaders and people are addressing the conflict situation. What is required are resources from our partners to help us establish peacekeeping operations," he explained.

Another issue the Maputo summit is likely to deal with is the make-up of the commission, or secretariat of the African Union. The commission is supposed to have 10 members, and some have suggested that 50 percent of the membership should be women - a policy that would support the African Union's goal of gender equality.

Maria Nzomo, professor at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies at the University of Nairobi, has some doubts. She said, "Ideally, I would wish it was possible, because this is really how the world should be. There should be equality, not just equity. Having said that, my own experience as a gender expert would be this: Considering that men are still in the majority, even at the level of the African Union, the ones who would be making decisions in Maputo, it is most unlikely that at the initial stage, they would be prepared to concede to have a 50-50 representation in all commissions." She explained, "What I see happening, and this is quite likely, is that the 33 percent - the one-third representation, which globally has been accepted, is likely to be considered."

The African Union also attaches great importance to its relationship with the African diaspora. For the first time, the diaspora has officially been invited to be represented at an African Union summit. Fred Oladeinde, president of the Washington-based Western Hemisphere Diaspora Network, said the diaspora is going to Maputo with a mission.

"We want the membership to recognize and put a face on this new constituency of the African Union. We also want to reassure them that the diaspora comes fully committed to engage the African Union, to work with the African Union in all of its various organs, in a way that we will make positive contribution. The African Union could always use the help of over 300 million Africans, who do not live in Africa, but have African ancestry," he said.

The Maputo summit is also expected to choose a permanent secretary general, or chief executive, of the African Union. The acting secretary general, Amara Essy of the Ivory Coast, is said to be in the running for the position, as well as former Malian president Alpha Konare.