African Union starts life as EU hits 50
By Khaled Diab
The fledgling AU, launched amid much fanfare in
Durban, South Africa, needs a helping hand from its big brother, the European
Union, if it is to deliver on its daunting remit to reduce poverty, ease
widespread conflict, fight rampant corruption and combat epidemic diseases in
the troubled continent.
The AU, broadly modelled on its European counterpart,
hopes to emulate and even surpass its role model. It proposes to achieve these
ambitious goals through the gradual promotion of democracy, good governance and
economic and political integration.
But to make these heady aspirations more
realisable, AU officials suggest, the new union needs access to European
financial clout and political expertise.
“Any cooperation with the EU will be welcomed,”
says Victor Emmanuel Djomatchua-Toko, the AU's permanent representative in
Although Africa has been striving for unity for
almost as long as Europe, he said the AU has learned and can learn from
European integration, imperfect as the exercise has been. But, more
importantly, the cash-strapped body needs investment.
“We hope our international partners, especially the EU, will help to finance AU projects, in particular, the NEPAD [New Partnership for African Development] initiative,” Djomatchua-Toko said.
NEPAD is a blueprint for plucking the debt-ridden continent out of poverty and saving it from ruin by attracting 64 billion euro in foreign direct investment (FDI), as well as reducing corruption and enhancing good governance.
Although the EU has given its African
counterpart technical support, no financial pledges from the industrialised
world have emerged yet.
“The EU, as a body, cannot directly divert FDI
to Africa,” says Kirsty Hughes, an analyst at the Centre for European Policy
Studies. “But it can assist in laying the groundwork for attracting FDI and
help to contribute to reforming the fundamentals.”
Djomatchua-Toko stresses, however, that Africa
ultimately aims to achieve self-dependence.
“We have to push ahead with the union, with or
without outside support,” he said.
”The political will is there, the commitment is there. Primarily, we need to count on our own resources. International cooperation will be a bonus.”
But the new union faces an uphill struggle. As
Hughes, until recently a member of Anna Diamantopoulou's cabinet, points out,
the continent has a diversity of cultures and problems, as well as a disparity
of development levels.
Cynics in Africa fear that the AU will go the
way of its predecessor and become a mere vessel for rhetoric, paralysed by
rulers unwilling to loosen their grip on power.
But even optimists admit that reform-minded African leaders may have bitten off more than they can chew.
Minute cracks are already beginning to appear, with the continent’s larger countries preferring a loose economic union, while some smaller ones want to forge an immediate political union.
This article first appeared in the 1 August-4 September 2002 edition of the European Voice. © Copyright 2002 The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved.
ã2004 K. Diab. Unless otherwise stated, all the content on this website is the copyright of Khaled Diab.