Lome And The Two-Way Approach To African Unity

By Sidy Gaye, PANA, 19 July 2000

LOME, Togo (PANA)—Today there is less militant and popular fervour, a more subdued echo and much less idealism than on 25 May 1963, Emile Derlin Zinsou, former President of Dahomey (now Benin) told PANA after the signing of the treaty establishing the African Union on 12 July 2000, at the Lome Congress centre in Togo.

Zinsou, who was his country's foreign affairs minister at the time, was a witness of the birth of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Thirty-seven years ago, when we left Addis Ababa, we felt we had removed one of the last obstacles in the way of the unification of the continent.

We were all both emotional and hopeful and many people thought that despite the divergent approaches which prevailed until then, unity was eventually within reach, he recalled.

You know how it all ended. This is to say that even today, it is the easiest part of the job that has just been done. But, the advantage this generation has over previous ones is that it has at least benefited from the experience gained over the past few years, he went on.

In fact, this experience has had a strong influence on the decisions of the 36th OAU Lome summit.

Its divergent perception and interpretation have, among others, divided the 47 delegations present in Togo into ‘sprint’ and ‘marathon’ runners.

Between those who wanted an African union right away, and those who wanted to gradually build it up over time, the 36th summit did not really favour one camp over the other.

As indeed 37 years ago, when it was torn apart from Monrovia (Liberia) to Casablanca (Morocco) by 31 states divided into maximalist progressives and pragmatic moderates, the African destiny has chosen, here again in Lome, to meet halfway.

For those who are more in a hurry, who have been able to share Col. Moammar Kadhafi's enthusiasm, the Lome summit offered a treaty, which 27 heads of delegation have been able to sign with legitimate pride which only needs to be ratified, at home first, and by at least the two thirds of potential members afterwards.

To the marathon runners, who formally adopted the treaty without accepting to sign it, there and then, Lome also provides them the time they needed for reflection. This will last as long as the opposition minority of 18 out of the 54 member states of the continent does not mellow down.

The possibility for change in spite of the hot verbal outpourings, derives from the fact that the African union has real space for convergence between the two camps.

From the conference of heads of state in Algiers (8July 1999), where the idea was mooted for the first time by Kadhafi, to the Lome meeting (from 4 to 12 July), through the Fourth Sirte extraordinary summit (9 September 1999) and he extraordinary meeting of the Council of ministers in Tripoli (Libya, 5 June 2000), its principle has in no way been in dispute.

While Kadhafi thus appears to have most intensely looked forward to its fulfilment and has devoted more energy and resources to it, no African State either doubts that the OAU, as it has existed for 37 years, was a spent force.

From the debate over the necessary amendment of its charter by a small committee, ongoing for more than ten years now, to the restructuring of its secretariat under completion, there have been various initiatives aimed at harmonising the continental body's institutional set-up with its new responsibilities.

The adoption in 1991 of the Abuja treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) and its institutions, the putting in place, at the Cairo summit (Egypt 1993), of a mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, the re-activation, in the face of new needs and emergencies, of the quasi totality of its specialised agencies and commissions, have all been perceived as so many pressing calls, towards a more sophisticated form of organisation.

To these should be added the intensification of transcontinental relations, both with North America, Japan and China as well as with traditional European partners or some institutions of the United Nations system, underscore the need for real political leadership on the continent, at each of their decisive stages.

It is this need which combined with the irrepressible thirst for unity of the Libyan revolutionary leader.

Because it primarily gives priority to mutual consent, and because of that, in both camps, it is the outcome of a long process of political maturation, the new approach to unity basically differs from the experiments of instrumental mergers.

The latter had too often been trampled, from Machrek to the Maghreb. The determination of the young officers who deposed King Idriss Sanoussi on 1 September 1969, had nothing but the ideals of unity as their agenda.

Since then, Egypt, Sudan and, Syria of Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and then Anouar El Sadate, Gaafar El Nimeiri and Hafez El Hassad (Union of Arab Republics 1970- 1972) up to King Hassan II's Morocco (Oujda accord of August 1984) through Tunisia of Habib Bourguiba (Djerba treaty of January 1974), none of the previous Libyan attempts had so many assets as his ongoing Pan-African crusade.

Future generations would therefore be less surprised if tomorrow, in the manner of elder statesman Zinsou, history books testify to this last attempt at unity as having been the most ambitious and most trying one. But the most fruitful one too.