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H.E. Salim A. Salim, former Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity

H.E. Salim A. Salim, former Secretary-General of the Organization of African Union (OAU) discussed the organization's successor, the African Union (AU), and its newest initiatives in the troubled region of Darfur at a Director's Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. In his new role as the head of the African Union mediation team working on the Darfur peace talks, Salim discussed the changing and increasing role that the African Union is playing in the continent's affairs, including its most recent intervention and mediation of the crisis in Darfur. In his introduction, Howard Wolpe observed that the civil war in Southern Sudan, one of Africa's oldest and deadliest conflicts, required consistent diplomatic and financial support, and should be a priority for the international community, with the necessary coordination of peace efforts.

Salim identified three major dimensions of the Africa Union. First and foremost, the project is a vision of a destiny that the continent desires to attain. Secondly, it is a vision that is operationalized through a gradual process of integration. Thirdly, as is the case in similar undertakings, the AU is being realized through the construction of an appropriate institutional architecture, a process that generates its own dynamics. Salim observed that the quest for African unity is a century-long project. A shared predicament of colonial occupation precipitated the emergence of the Pan-Africanist Movement in the 1900's. Pan-Africanism became an expression of resistance, of the common African aspiration for peace and freedom and for an end to foreign domination, and reflected the ongoing quest for unity and solidarity among the African people. This movement gave birth, initially, to the Organization of African Unity and, more recently, to the African Union.

The African Union is thus neither a completely new organization nor simply a change of name and designation. It builds from the accomplishments of the OAU and creates an elevated dynamic and an engaging framework for fostering closer unity and solidarity among the African people. The scope of the African Union is much broader than that of the OAU, as is the AU's dynamic framework for providing vision and leadership, technical oversight and guidance, and for maintaining effective engagement and implementation in all spheres of the continent's development. In addition, complementing the Afica Union, many regional economic communities have been established, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), SADC (the Southern African Development Community) and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). These new institutions represent a clear message that the continent must be responsible for its own survival and foster close relationships among the African leaders.

Salim Salim observed that despite these positive initiatives, the continent must address several formidable challenges. Conflict, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and poverty are tearing the continent apart. It is imprudent and unrealistic for Africans to rely on other countries to save them. The developed world will not save Africa, Africans must stand up to these challenges, be self-critical and make sustainable efforts to confront these realities. In his travels through the continent, he has consistently received the same message: Africans from all spheres want to be involved in the continent's transformation.

He also discussed the AU's role as a force for peace and development on the continent. The deployment of AU forces to Sudan and Burundi demonstrates Africans' determination to participate directly in the management of continental conflicts. Yet, while the willpower is clearly there, the AU will continue to require financial and logistical support and resources from external and internal donors if it is to be successful in its peacekeeping missions.

Salim Salim's remarks were followed by a question-and-answer session, featuring a number of questions related to the crisis in Darfur, and his personal role in the mediation of the conflict. Salim highlighted efforts that had been made during the course of the four rounds of talks in regards to the peace process. The most recent round of talks, however, was less successful, as fighting on the ground eclipsed progress at the negotiating table. While the media has treated these talks as determined to fail, such pessimism is unwarranted. While there remain many procedural questions that have not been finally resolved, including the role of Eritrea and Chad in the negotiations, progress has been made slowly and steadily, as evidenced by the recent agreement on a declaration of principles.

The AU has received important assistance from its outside partners, identified as facilitators (Nigeria and Libya), observers (League of Arab States and Egypt) and international partners (US, UK, France, EU, UN, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands). However, one of the rebel organizations has taken the position that it will only negotiate when all international partners are present; this condition has created significant logistical challenges. Moreover, while outside partners have been very helpful to the AU in Darfur, particularly the Troika Plus (the nine partners listed above), the problem of translating donor commitment into concrete action still remains.

Salim concluded by stating that none of the challenges confronting Africa is insurmountable. Despite pressures for fragmentation, global trends at this conjuncture tend to favor closer linkages and the formation of larger units. The Africa continent, therefore, should harness the advantages that flow from globalization and steer itself towards realizing the people's vision of an effective African Union. He stated there is no other rational choice for the people of Africa than that of enhancing their cooperation and integration. "The vision is clear, the architecture is being constructed, and a momentum has been unleashed…. Africa just simply cannot afford to fail."

Michael Jobbins, Project Associate ext. 4158
Howard Wolpe, Director