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African Heads of State Convene for Summit in Ghana


African heads of state are arriving in Ghana's capital, Accra, to prepare for an African Union Summit that officially opens Sunday, July 1. The meeting aims to address a Libyan proposal to create a continent-wide government. But African human rights activists say there are many more pressing issues, such as the conflict in Darfur, that should be addressed first. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

A proposal by Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi for the African Union to be replaced by a United States of Africa is at the top of the agenda for the AU Summit set to begin in Ghana on Sunday. Preparatory sessions are already underway, and Mr. Gaddafi has been touring African countries to drum up support for his proposition.

In Ivory Coast's capital, Abidjan, on Wednesday, Mr. Gaddafi told a cheering crowd of thousands, that, "We should construct a single, powerful African government, one army with two million soldiers, one currency, one African identity, one passport."

But Saidou Arji, a human rights activist based in Ghana, says he thinks African heads of state have more important issues to focus on.

"You have everyday hundreds or thousands of young people who go into the sea and have strived to go to the western countries, in order to have better lives," he said. "I think that is the priority for our leaders, not to talk about some continental government and others. We must resolve these issues first."

He says civil society organizations in Ghana have planned many activities around the summit to raise awareness of this issue and others, including the conflict in Darfur and the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. Thursday will be a day of solidarity with Zimbabwe, where the population is suffering from inflation at around 4,000 percent, as well as crippling poverty, unemployment, and food and fuel shortages.

The idea of a single African state was first proposed in the early 1960s, as African countries gained independence from colonial powers. Africa analyst Richard Reeve, with the British-based think tank Chatham House, says the concept has always been a populist one, but he does not think it is likely to be realized any time soon.

"The African Union as it stands is dependent on aid for its functioning - and it has very limited functioning - from Europe and major donor states," he said.

Reeve says donor states think it is too early for a united African state, and they doubt that a single body could govern across such a large and still troubled continent.

"In general, donor states are in favor of greater African integration, but integration on a functional basis," he said. "The way that the African Union is constructed gives voice to that, but in effect does not have the capacity to integrate effectively. It devolves policy to various regional economic and political communities."

Human Rights activist Arji says Africa should assess the effectiveness of these regional bodies, like the Economic Community of West African States in West Africa, before aiming at continent wide integration.