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New AU Committee to Link African Civic Groups with African Leadership

Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai
African civic activists are optimistic that a new African Union committee will provide a vehicle for people at the grassroots level of society to present their views to the continent's leaders.

The African Union's Economic, Social and Cultural Council, aims to link civic groups with the pan-African organization and the continent's leaders.

Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, who heads the council, says it is a forum where the citizenry can challenge governments to be more accountable and effective.

"We recognize that as an exceptional opportunity for the first time in Africa, where African heads of states are opening doors and embracing voices from their people," said Ms. Maathai. "We all know our history, how the ordinary African people have not really been very much involved in the decision-making process, even at the national level."

Deputy presiding officer from West Africa Ayodele Aderinwale says the council will also enable ordinary Africans to shape the policies of the African Union.

"You are going to have an African Union, in which there is the chance for the leader of a peasant association in the backwood town anywhere in Africa can contest and be elected from the national platform, and be part of [the] inter-regional assembly, and can be part of the decision-making process for the African Union," he said.

The Economic, Social and Cultural Council's work is divided into what it calls 10 clusters, dealing with everything from peace and security to infrastructure and energy, rural economy and agriculture, and social affairs and health.

The representative from the North African standing committee, Amany Asfour, explains what the human resources, science and technology cluster intends to do.

"It will be one of the major role[s] to get together all the scientists of Africa and to see how to have a work plan for the development of scientific research and development in Africa," said Ms. Asfour. "It is one of the plan[s] of the cluster to convene a very big conference for science and technology, gather all the stakeholders for the enabling environment of investment in scientific research."

Officials say the council also aims to have African countries raise money to finance the African Union, so that it could be considered a truly African institution.

One proposal on the table is for African governments to impose a tax on airline tickets, the proceeds of which would go to fund the African Union's poverty reduction, health and education programs. It is estimated such a move would raise at least $440 million a year.

The African Union is a pan-continental organization, launched in 2002 and headquartered in Ethiopia, which brings together heads of states and others to promote peace and development. It is widely touted as being the African solution to Africa problems.