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African Union Committed to Development - 2002-12-23

The interim chairman of the African Union says the organization is committed to building a partnership with citizens to develop Africa. Amara Essy spoke in Washington during a recent three day conference. The conference of the African Diaspora in the Western Hemisphere, the first of its kind, was part of the African Union's commitment to involve African people from around the world, in the decision making process as African leaders prepare to formalize the organization's structure. Delegates came to Washington from as far away as Brazil, the Caribbean, Canada, and from around the United States.

Interim Chairman Amara Essy, told participants that the African Union wants to work with the diaspora to create a better Africa that will make them proud of their heritage. "The fundamental idea is that we are seeking partnership, and it's different from the previous partnership. This meeting between the African Union and the diaspora is the very first step in this direction. To tell you how much the diaspora is important for the African Union, certain member states have even suggested that one of the commissioners should be a member of the diaspora," says Mr. Essy. "The diaspora will therefore be the sixth region of the African Union."

Mr. Essy says there are many things that the diaspora could do to contribute to the realization of the African Union's goals. "You have the expertise and many Africans today are working in major firms. When I was in London the last time, I had a meeting with Africans. One of them told me, we live in Great Britain and we pay taxes. Can't we pay one dollar per person to the African Union?" he says. "Reverend [Leon] Sullivan speaking once in Abidjan said that given the millions of African-Americans, if each one of them gave five dollars, the problems of Africa's debt would be resolved. It's not just only financial contribution. All we are looking for is for the intellectual capacity to be put at the disposal of the African Union."

Braimi Olagheri is executive president of the Washington based New African World Nation. He says Africans in the diaspora should buy back the continent's foreign debt. "It is about time we use our two hands to wash themselves with the same quantity of water. Why do we have to create NEPAD [the New Partnership for Development in Africa] to kneel down begging the rest of the world for $30 million, he says. "It's about time for us to know that Africa and Africans in the world will not be appreciated and recognized for what we are until we show the world that we can do without the world."

There are an estimated five-million refugees and 15-million internally displaced people in Africa today, created either by wars or by natural disasters. One speaker suggested the African Union set up its own humanitarian organization to provide disaster relief instead of always looking up to the West.

Anthony Okonmah is executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Africa. He says the African Union should deal with corruption if it is to be successful. "We have a major challenge, and we're not going to let anybody do it. We have to do it ourselves. It is efficient that Africa becomes part of the global economy.," he says. "We have enough resources to help at least reduce the level of poverty if we can eliminate corruption. Corruption is the cancer that will affect security; that will affect stability. Of course it will affect development, and if development is not in place, democracy will not survive."

Vivian Lowery Derryck of the Academy for Education Development in Washington pleaded with the African Union to make good use of its peer review process and make it less bureaucratic. "Make sure that it is lean and that it can move quickly and it really can demonstrate to African civil society and to the wider world that there is commitment to make this process work," ;she says. "And I would suggest that there be a mechanism to allow civil society to activate the peer review process. For instance, if a thousand persons from any country or group of countries sign petitions that the peer review process should be activated so that civil society feels some ownership of this." Ms. Derryck also appealed to Chairman Essy and the African Union to embrace the involvement of women in the African Union.

Mr. Essy says when the permanent structures of the African Union are formalized next July in Mozambique, half of the Union's 10 commissioners would be women. "Women work a lot in Africa. They wake up at four in the morning; they warm water for their husbands; they go to the fields to work; they cook. Therefore the African woman is really strong," he says. "And it's only normal that she contributes to the success in Africa."

Mr. Essy also addressed issues raised by some participants concerning African leaders who have overstayed their time in office and whether those leaders can be trusted with the agenda of the new African Union. "I think we have to go step by step. Democracy is very contagious. We cannot close borders to ideas today. I believe that things will come naturally by themselves. We have a rule that there should not be three terms of office," he says. "And today you have many former presidents who are not working because when you know that after the second term you have to leave power, then you have to manage the country carefully because you know that once you leave they can take you to court."

Mr. Essy says the many challenges facing the African continent today will pass because African leaders are determined to take their destiny into their own hands. But he says it would require the collaboration of Africans on the continent and Africans in the Diaspora. Mr. Essy says the African Union Western Hemisphere Diaspora conference would be followed by an African Union European Diaspora forum.