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OAU Becomes African Union - 2002-07-07

Monday marks the final session of the Organization of African Unity, on Tuesday, the OAU will become the African Union. Heads of state from around the continent have flocked to South Africa for the occasion.

A group of Zulu traditional dancers was on hand to greet African leaders as they arrived at their hotel.

More than 40 leaders from nearly every nation on the continent are in Durban for 38th and final heads of state summit of the Organization of African Unity and the launch of the African Union. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is also on hand for the historic ceremony.

The African Union is supposed to focus on fighting poverty and ending conflict on the African continent. Diplomats and analysts say it hopes to build on the accomplishments of the OAU while avoiding some of its predecessor's mistakes.

The director of the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, Jakkie Cilliers, says there is going to be both continuity and change when the OAU gives way to the AU on Tuesday. "So when you look at the constitutive act of the African Union, it is brimming with principles relating to human rights and democracy, which are completely absent from the charter of the OAU," he said. "But putting that into practice is going to be a challenge. And we must face it, there is no easy solution to African instability and lack of development. This is a generational change that will take decades. The direction that Africa is going, incrementally, is in the right direction. The OAU is another step in that direction, but it is no magic wand."

The day before the final OAU meeting was packed with pre-summit talks on a wide variety of issues. At least 10 African leaders met to discuss the New Economic Program for African Development, known as NEPAD. It will become the main economic policy of the African Union.

NEPAD pledges that African nations will hold themselves to principles of good governance and democracy. In return, they ask for trade and investment, not aid, from the industrialized world.

Most of the leaders attending the NEPAD briefing in a Durban hotel were supporters of the program. But the meeting was also attended by Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, who has opposed NEPAD in the past.

But sources indicate that after a last-minute visit from South African President Thabo Mbeki last week, the Libyan leader has apparently agreed to endorse the program, or at least not stand in its way.