U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned government leaders at the opening session of the African Union summit to respect their countries' constitutions and give up power when their terms are over. He also issued a strong warning about Darfur.
Mr. Annan told heads of state and delegates assembled for the third African Union summit that national constitutions are meant to protect society, not to advance, in his words, the short-term goals of the ruler.
Mr. Annan said the days of one-person or one-party governments that hang onto power are over. "There is no truer wisdom, and no clearer mark of statesmanship, than knowing when to pass the torch to a new generation. And no government should manipulate or amend the constitution to hold on to office beyond prescribed term limits that they accept when they took office," he said.
Mr. Annan said every country in Africa must have free and fair elections, a credible opposition, an independent judiciary, a free and independent press, and civilian control over the military.
Uganda is one country grappling with the introduction of multi-party politics. President Yoweri Museveni came under fire last month for opposing a constitutional court decision that invalidates a 2000 referendum in which voters rejected multi-party politics. He was also accused of trying to change the constitution to stay in power a third term, a charge he has vigorously denied.
Mr. Annan also voiced his concerns about conflicts on the continent, particularly in the troubled western Sudan region of Darfur. He warned that the Darfur conflict could destabilize the region if not resolved soon. "I have just visited Darfur and the refugee camps in Chad. The ruined villages, the camps overflowing with sick and hungry women and children, and the fear in the eyes of the people should be a clear warning to all of us: without action, the brutalities already inflected on the civilian population of Darfur could be a prelude to even greater humanitarian catastrophe - a catastrophe that could destabilize the region," he said.
Mr. Annan praised the AU for sending cease-fire monitors to the area and several hundred troops to protect the monitors.
The U.N. secretary general was the keynote speaker at the opening the three-day African Union summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.
The leaders who gathered there are expected to discuss the creation and funding of the African peacekeeping force. The 53 AU member states will be asked to pitch in 10 percent of their defense budgets to help fund the force.
Also on the summit's agenda is the faltering peace process in Ivory Coast and improvements in food production.