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African Leaders to Focus on Giving Continent Economic and Political Boost - 2004-07-05

African heads of state are meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for the third summit of the African Union July 6 through July 8.

For summit participants, the goal may well be how to give economic and political punch to an organization seen by some to have more promise than actual power.

Part of the answer may be self help, with delegates discussing how African countries can work together to promote trade and stability.

Among the proposals for increasing trade among Africa's five regional trading blocs are lower transportation costs and streamlined customs practices.

Garth Le Pere is the executive director of a foreign policy research organization, the Institute for Global Dialogue in Johannesburg, South Africa. "There are any number of important declarations that have to be put into the policy machinery of the AU, this relates to Africa's trade relations, particularly the delicate negotiations on free trade agreements with the European Union; also, the declaration of agriculture and food security and how to address issues related to that and looking at how the agricultural sector could become an engine for growth and development," he said.

Growth will be needed in all sectors to help pay for the African Union's ambitious expansion, including a Central Bank, an African Court of Justice, and a Peace and Security Council. Mr. Le Pere notes that all of these are costly.

"The Peace and Security Council will require a large budget for conflict prevention, mediation and so on, and it will oversee the establishment of an African stand-by force," he said. "The last G-8 summit of industrial nations at Sea Island in the U.S. state of Georgia made a commitment, led by the United States, to establish a 50,000 member standing force, which will assist in conflict prevention and intervention in Africa."

Experts say the A.U. will need at least half a billion dollars to operate, compared to about $45 billion for its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity.

Dr. Christopher Landsberg, the director of the Centre for Policy Studies in Johannesburg, says delegates will likely approve a new formula for paying the $500 million in operating costs. He says five countries, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and Libya, have agreed to pay for nearly half of the budget. Mr. Landsberg says other ways are being considered to raise money for the African Union.

"There are a number of other policy positions being considered: one, that all air travel tickets traveling within the continent, that there should be a five or 10 percent ticket levy or airport tax added to every ticket," he said. "Another is to put a small percentage on all export duties to and from Africa; [Meanwhile] the chair of the Commission of the A.U., President Alpha Konare, is in favor of countries adding to their annual budgets an item called an African Union levy."

More likely to make headlines will be the summit's choice for the headquarters of the A.U.'s new Pan African Parliament, or P.A.P. Mr. Le Pere says at this point, it's a toss-up between Egypt and South Africa.

Critics say at least two factors tend to weaken Egypt's bid: President Mubarak has not attended recent AU summit meetings, and a perceived lack of leadership in the politics of sub-Saharan Africa.

"South Africa has a good chance of hosting the P.A.P: it has the the necessary infrastructure, political commitment, and willingness to devote considerable resources of its own to housing the Pan African Parliament, said Mr. Le Pere. "Another big agenda item is whether the P.A.P will be funded from the A.U. budget or if countries sending five MPs to the P.A.P. will be responsible for their salaries, allowances, pensions and so on."

Political analyst Christopher Landsberg says Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has added another item to the summit agenda. "Another controversial issue on agenda, put there by Gadhafi, is that the headquarters of the African union should move from Addis Ababa," he said. "It is clear he would like it to move to Serte in Libya. I don't expect that to be approved, but Gadhafi pulled out of the race for the Pan African Parliament because he expected to get something in return."

Mr. Le Pere says this summit will be a test of whether the African Union can move its broad continental agenda beyond what he says are declarations and commitments of intent. He says that means finding the resources to support its broad range of institutions during a time of budget challenges.