AfricaEurope

African Union starts life as EU hits 50

Last week witnessed the quiet passing away of one successful exercise in cooperation and the hopeful birth of another. As the European Coal and Steel Community's 50-year mandate expired, the African Union (AU) emerged from the ashes of the 39-year-old Organisation of African Unity.

The fledgling African Union, launched amid much fanfare in Durban, South , needs a helping hand from its big brother, the European Union, if it is to deliver on its daunting remit to reduce , 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 , 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 will be welcomed,” says Victor Emmanuel Djomatchua-Toko, the AU's permanent representative in Brussels.

Although Africa has been striving for unity for almost as long as , he said the African Union 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 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.”

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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 African 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.

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This article first appeared in the 1 August-4 September 2002 edition of the European Voice.

Author

  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil . Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in and the , and has lived in , on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled’s life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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