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OAU  Holds Last Meeting - 2002-07-08

African leaders are meeting in Durban, South Africa, for the final summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Tuesday will bring the birth of the OAU's replacement, the African Union.

The OAU anthem played for the last time as African leaders gathered for the 38th and final meeting of the Organization of African Unity.

Some Western news organizations are characterizing this as the death and burial of the OAU, a group that was crippled by diplomatic infighting and a lack of funds.

But spirits are high in Durban, as the OAU prepares for its transition into the African Union (AU).

South African President Thabo Mbeki is the summit host, and will also be the first chairman of the AU. He said the new organization will build on its predecessor's accomplishments, but will try to avoid its mistakes. "This is, therefore, an occasion for us to pay tribute to the OAU, for the work it has done during the 39 years of its existence," he said. "Apart from anything else, we must do this, because we have to ensure that we do not present the step we are about to take as the death of the OAU, but its further evolution, given the changed circumstances in our continent and the world."

Mr. Mbeki also said African leaders have "a duty to radically change" Africa's political, economic and social relations with the rest of the world.

He urged the leaders to aim for measurable advances and not being "satisfied merely to report that we met and adopted good resolutions." "The situation demands that we make a new beginning. We have the means to do this, knowing that we have a long road ahead of us," said Thabo Mbeki. "Practical results will demonstrate whether we have the will to do what needs to be done."

The secretary-general of both the OAU and the AU, Amara Essy, said never again will any non-African determine the destiny of Africa.

The outgoing chairman of the OAU, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, said Africa cannot hope for any meaningful development until it addresses the problem of conflict on the continent. "Africa must remain united in creating a new order in which we are all committed to the promotion of peace, security and economic prosperity," he said.

The Durban summit will last three days, but beginning Tuesday, the leaders will be meeting as the African Union, and the OAU will be consigned to the history books.