Far from revolts, African leaders talk shared values

Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt is in flames and Ben Ali’s Tunisia is no more, but both events seem far removed from the African Union summit under way in the Ethiopian capital, even amid calls on leaders to heed change.

The African leaders gathered in Addis Ababa have nonetheless discussed at length the future partition of Sudan and the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. They have also touched on the Tunisian turmoil and the Egyptian protests.

The AU has voiced worry over the situation in Egypt and the body’s Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said economic and social reforms were necessary.

But the two-day pan-African body’s summit has stuck to its planned schedule. Ministers and delegates continue to smile as they stroll through the marble hallways in the United Nations (UN) conference centre, heading for meetings.

Some of them hardly even glance up at the flat-screen TVs running footage of riots and burning buildings in Cairo, a gentle reminder of the real world outside.

On Friday when protesters were defying Mubarak in the streets of Cairo, the Egyptian delegation showed some signs of agitation, clustering for consultations around foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, now part of a government on its way out.

“There’s an unbelievable gap between what is going on in this assembly with its AU-speak, the speeches that no one listens to and these dictator heads of state, some of whom have been in power for more than 30 years,” commented Human Rights Watch’s spokesperson Reed Brody at the summit.

‘Adapted to African culture’
The appointment of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema as African Union chairperson is “particularly caricatural”, Brody said.

Obiang Nguema came to power in 1979 in a coup in which he overthrew his uncle and had him killed.
He has now espoused “democracy and human rights” on the continent whilst underlining that these values must be “adapted to African culture”.

On Friday night Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, 86 and still hanging on to power, took part in an AU meeting aimed at finding “a democratic solution” to the Ivorian crisis.

“The heads of state are still pretending nothing’s up. For them it’s business as usual,” the HRW spokesperson said, citing the way they continue to rally round Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir who is wanted for war crimes in Darfur.

In very general terms UN chief Ban Ki-moon nevertheless called on the leaders of all countries to listen attentively and sincerely to the wishes of their people and said that leaders should bear responsibility for providing decent jobs and livelihoods for the population.

France President Nicolas Sarkozy warned his peers that “in today’s world it is no longer possible to govern in the way you used to”, and called on them to draw lessons from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and to anticipate their people’s desire for change.

“Either you just let this change catch up with you and you leave the door wide open for violence sooner or later. Or you anticipate it and take it in your stride and then it can be accomplished without violence,” he said.

Brody warned more directly: “We get the impression that African leaders are missing the wind of change but it could sweep right up to them.”—Sapa-AFP

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