Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Unity talks while Africa starves

THE Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, has called for the creation of a United States of Africa, and appears to be positioning himself to be its first leader.

Flanked by his coterie of bodyguards as the continent's 53 heads of state gathered for an African Union summit in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, on Sunday, Colonel Gaddafi declared: "My vision is to wake up the African leaders to unify our continent. Long live the United States of Africa, long live African unity."

The rallying cry preceded the summit's "grand debate" on pan-Africanism, first mooted by Ghana's first post-independence leader, Kwame Nkrumah.

It also coincided with revelations that Portugal was to invite Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe - who also attended the Accra summit - to a meeting of European and African leaders in Lisbon this year despite a European Union travel ban and sanctions against the dictator.

Britain has fiercely opposed Mugabe's presence at the European summit. But a senior Portuguese official said: "This is a summit for all African countries at the highest level, heads of government or heads of state. All African countries must be invited."

In Accra, critics accused Colonel Gaddafi of grandstanding, saying the gathering should focus on Zimbabwe, Darfur and Somalia, and on the continent's chronic corruption and poverty.

Officials from Africa's leading economies including Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya were "quietly distancing themselves" from Colonel Gaddafi's statements, sources at the summit said.

But the Libyan leader was supported by Ghana's President, John Kufuor, and the chairman of the African Union commission, Alpha Oumar Konare. "The question of unification is not in doubt," Mr Kufuor said. "What remains is the form of government and how and when to attain it."

However, sceptics pointed to gaping flaws in the operations of the African Union, where only seven of the 53 members are up to date with their annual payments.

Concerns about African poverty were reinforced by a United Nations report yesterday that found that sub-Saharan Africa will fail to meet the goals set seven years ago for eradicating global poverty by 2015.

Boosted by economic progress in China and India, the UN said the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day had fallen from 23.4 per cent in 1999 and was on track to hit the 15.8 per cent target for 2015.

But the benchmarks for Africa would not be met. Forty-six per cent of African children under five are registered as underweight, while infant mortality is down by one-sixth, against the UN's target of a two-thirds cut.

In health, sub-Saharan Africa was the only region where the incidence of tuberculosis rose.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said: "The results presented in this report suggest that … success is still possible in most parts of the world. But they also point to how much remains to be done."

Unity talks while Africa starves - World - smh.com.au