African leaders meeting in Durban have officially launched the new African Union. It has replaced the now-defunct Organization of African Unity. The ceremony attracted several thousand spectators.
At times, the euphoric atmosphere in the Durban rugby stadium seemed more like a festival than the birth of a new regional coalition. And the star-studded performance of the new AU anthem brought the crowd to its feet.
Earlier in the day, the heads of state had undertaken the serious and sometimes tedious work of discussing and adopting a series of resolutions, reports and protocols that will govern the way the African Union is run.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, the first chairman of the African Union, told the crowd Africans must unite and redefine their own destiny, to create a better life for all people of the continent. "The time has come that Africa takes her rightful place in global affairs. The time has come that we must end the marginalization of the continent of Africa. The time has come that we must end many centuries in which many on our globe despised the people of our continent. And we call on the rest of the world to work with us as partners to achieve these objectives," Mr. Mbeki said.
Mr. Mbeki said there can be no real development without peace, security and stability in Africa. Other leaders who spoke agreed with him. Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi urged, in particular, an end to the conflicts in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa.
"It is discouraging that as we launch the African Union, persistent conflict situations in Africa continue to constrain economic development, making the region the least developed of the world," Mr. Moi said.
Amid warnings that the hardest work of the African Union is yet to come, the ceremony at the stadium was a time to celebrate the birth of the new organization. Thousands of people turned out to witness the event.
Despite the presence of more than 30 African presidents and prime ministers, the largest rounds of applause were reserved for men who are not heads of state.
The stadium literally erupted in applause for former South African President Nelson Mandela, and again for members of the national football teams of South Africa and Senegal, fresh from their relative successes at the World Cup.
After the celebration, the leaders headed back to the International Conference Center to carry on with the more serious work of deciding how the new African Union should be run.