Positions are being staked out concerning the establishment of a pan-African government, at the annual summit of the African Union under way in Accra. Heads of state and government from around the continent began meeting in the Ghanaian capital on Sunday; they will wrap up talks on Tuesday.
Of the 53 AU members, about 30 are represented by their leaders.
Continent-wide administration is the key issue on the agenda of this year’s summit. A 2006 study by the AU, An African Union Government: Towards the United States of Africa, has suggested that such an administration could be in place by 2015 — fulfilling an aspiration that dates back to the founding of the union’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity.
While some are cautious about the creation of an AU government, others believe it is key to helping Africa emerge from poverty and under-development.
”We need to take the bull by the horns and move towards a new country — Africa,” said AU Commission chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare on Sunday. He also noted that ”political integration Ã¢â‚¬Â¦will give us more clout and bargaining power when negotiating with other blocs”.
Certain pan-African bodies are already in place. ”We have the Pan African Parliament [PAP] and the African Court of Justice,” noted Konare. But, ”These structures lack power: they are not effective structures. A union government will give them teeth.”
The PAP was set up in 2004, in part to promote good governance and democracy across the continent. While a protocol establishing the African Court of Justice is in place, it can only come into effect after ratification by all AU member states. To date, just a handful have done so.
Perhaps the most vocal proponent of continental government, Libyan President Moammar Gadaffi, was not present at the opening ceremony of the gathering for African leaders.
Ghana’s President, John Kufuor, noted that the views of citizens should be sought on the matter of an AU government — and that stronger regional groupings are required for such an authority to take shape.
A lack of free movement of people and goods in the various regions is said to have slowed integration. Statistics from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa indicate, for instance, that regional trade in the Economic Community of West Africa States is a quarter of the bloc’s trade with Europe.
The call for free movement of people was echoed by activists present at the summit.
”We call on our excellencies to remove all visa requirements for African citizens to travel across the continent as a first step towards a protocol that enshrines the right to residence, work and movement. Without continental citizenship, continental government is meaningless,” said a communiquÃ© issued by about 150 civil society organisations drawn from 30 African countries.
Activists have also taken a stand on the matter of economic partnership agreements (EPAs) — accords that are scheduled to come into force by next year, and which many fear will drive Africa deeper into poverty.
Hundreds of activists wearing T-shirts adorned with anti-poverty messages and carrying placards bearing the slogan ”Say no to EPAs” held peaceful demonstrations this weekend outside the summit venue.
EPAs are intended to make bring trade between the EU and Africa, Caribbean and Pacific states (the ACP bloc) into conformity with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. ACP nations currently enjoy preferential access to Europe’s markets without having to reciprocate. In terms of WTO requirements, ACP states will be required to start opening their markets to European products from 2008 — this new relationship governed by the EPAs.
Tetteh Hormeku, coordinator of the Africa Trade Network, believes this will prove disastrous.
”Cheap and often subsidised European products will flood our markets, displacing domestic products and deepening the crisis faced by domestic producers, leading to further loss of jobs and livelihoods,” he said. The network is an umbrella body for organisations working on international trade issues and their effect on Africa’s development.
Similar concerns were voiced by West African farmers’ associations and trade unions that met from June 26 to 29 in Accra to chart ways of dealing with the EPAs. A communiquÃ© from this event, demanding an immediate halt to EPA talks, is expected to be presented to the AU leaders.
There are also fears that African farmers, already hard hit by the subsidies that wealthy countries pay their farmers, will become worse off under the agreements.
Substantial financial losses are envisaged if EPAs come into effect. Analysts argue that this will reduce governments’ expenditure on social services such as health, education and water provision — services that are already strained.
At a June 28 session in Accra of the AU executive council, made up of African ministers of foreign affairs, Elizabeth Tankeu — AU trade and industry commissioner — said there was little progress in ensuring that EPA negotiations safeguarded development.
AU member states present at the session also claimed that ACP countries had been subjected to pressure from the EU to agree to EPAs. ”We must persuade the EU to avoid exercising such pressure. If we succumb to pressure, we will have trade without development,” they said.
Noted Hauwa Mustapha of the Nigeria Labour Congress: ”It is our hope that our governments will not allow themselves to be dragged along with the agenda of the EU.” — IPS