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African Union Summit Closes - 2002-07-10

The inaugural summit of the new African Union closed with a spirit of hope that a new era for Africa has dawned. But leaders say the people of Africa are expecting concrete results from the new regional grouping, not just positive words.

The African Union hopes to boost African development and bring peace and stability to the often troubled continent.

In his closing speech, South African President Thabo Mbeki, the first chairman of the AU, told his colleagues they are opening a new chapter in Africa. "I think we can say, given what has happened here during the last few days, the spirit everybody has shown, that we share a commitment to make sure the union really does grow, and that we build on that excellent beginning and not allow the momentum to die," he said.

President Mbeki said expectations for the new African Union are high. He told the assembled heads of state they have a duty to their people to produce concrete results.

The African Union hopes to deal with conflict better than its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity. It will have a Peace and Security Council that, unlike the OAU, will be able to intervene in member states in cases of genocide or extreme human rights abuses.

The AU also hopes to lift Africans out of poverty by developing the continent's economy. The main vehicle for doing that is the New Program for African Economic Development, or NEPAD.

To encourage investment from the developed world, NEPAD will include a peer review system: African countries will evaluate each other on the health of their political and economic systems.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told reporters the process will be vital to the success of NEPAD and the African Union. "If we are going to take ourselves seriously, and we want the world to take us seriously, peer review mechanism is one of the things that we must institute and we must ensure it is carried out creditably and efficiently," he said.

President Obasanjo says the peer review system will be voluntary, but he believes it will work. If countries do not want to be reviewed by their peers, they can leave NEPAD entirely.

There is still a lot of work to be done before the African Union will be fully functional. After the close of the summit, President Mbeki told reporters there will be a special heads of state meeting in six months, where leaders will sort out what he calls the "glitches" in the AU system. He says it is important to fix any problems as quickly as possible.

The location of the special summit has not yet been decided. The next regular meeting of the African Union will be in Mozambique one year from now.