AU summit: Women, wars, and money
July 11 2004 - Leaders stress that implementation of new African Union policies is
vital to break from the lethargy of the past, writes S'thembiso Msomi
Botswana's President Festus Mogae
amused African leaders this week when he recalled a female delegate saying a
male-dominated meeting on the status of women in Tanzania 12 years ago had been
like "a congress of cats to discuss the well-being
and upliftment of rats".
anecdote came as the discussion at this week's African Union (AU) heads of state summit in Addis Ababa
turned to women's empowerment.
one woman spoke at the meeting - and she was smuggled onto the speakers' list
by Senegalese Presi dent Abdoulaye Wade to talk on behalf of youth
Yet the absence of a larger
female presence did not stop the continent's leaders from denouncing the
oppressive practices against women still prevalent in many parts of Africa.
The newly elected AU chairman,
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, spoke out against female geni tal
mutilation, forced marriages and discrimination against people living with
He told of how, in one region of
Nigeria, women suspected of killing their husbands were forced to drink the
dirty water used to wash their spouse's corpse before burial.
"If the man died
suspiciously, the wife is forced to bath with and then drink the same water
used to wash the dead body.
"If she dies within 14 days
of drinking the water, the belief is that she killed her husband.
"If she survives, she is
then cleared of all suspicions. We must make sure that such practices come to
an end," Obasanjo said.
Even Zimbabwean President Robert
Mugabe, whose government stands accused of sponsoring a rapist youth militia,
championed the rights of women on the day.
He told the summit how his mother
had been prevented from learning English because, at the time, her community
feared that women who spoke English "would run away from their homes to
become nannies for whites, or prostitutes".
The continent's leaders
unanimously endorsed an ambitious gender parity policy aimed at ensuring women
eventually hold 50% of all positions of power in government, civil society and
the private sector.
At the urging of South African
Presi dent Thabo Mbeki, the AU member countries agreed to submit annual reports
on each country's progress on gender parity.
This, Mbeki argued, would ensure
that the 50:50 policy became a reality throughout the African continent.
A year ago, at a similar summit
in Maputo, African leaders adopted the African Charter on the Rights of Women
in Africa which was hailed at the time as a "progressive programme"
for the emancipation of women.
So far, however, only 29 of the
AU's 53 member states have signed the charter.
Mbeki hopes to avoid a similar
situation in the 50:50 policy with the yearly reports from member countries.
Although he no longer holds an
official position in the AU, Mbeki remains one of the key drivers of the body.
And he made it clear on the first
day of the summit that he had come to Addis Ababa to change the AU culture of adopting
resolutions that are never carried through.
For Mbeki, Obasanjo, outgoing AU
chairman Joaquim Chissano and other leading AU figures, the Addis Ababa summit
was about implementation.
The Durban and Maputo summits, in
2002 and 2003 respectively, laid the foundation for this by adopting the New
Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and other policies to guide the
Important organs such as the AU
Commission, responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation, and the
Pan African Parliament are also now fully functional.
The leaders in Addis Ababa wanted
the adoption of a clear programme of action to guide AU structures over the
next three years.
Addressing journalists at the end
of the three-day meeting, Mbeki described the summit as "very
He pointed to the adoption of the
2004-07 strategic framework designed to guide the AU Commission, the adoption
of the gender parity policy and the approval of the statutes governing the
creation of the AU's Economic, Social and Cultural Council (Ecosocc) as some of
the summit's milestones.
The strategic framework, among
other things, details the major projects the AU will have to carry out over the
next three years. It also contains a break-down of the body's proposed
Ecosocc, expected to come into
being later this year, will be an advisory body made up of social movements and
Its creation would afford civil
society a recognised voice in AU discussions and processes, Mbeki said.
And there were other successes
South Africa was unanimously
chosen to host the continental parliament after Egypt withdrew from the race.
The country also took over the
chairmanship of the Peace and Security Council, whose job will be to bring
about peace and stability in military hotspots around the continent.
And Mbeki's brainchild, Nepad,
was boosted at the summit when five additional countries signed up for the
African peer review mechanism.
The five countries, Lesotho,
Malawi, Angola, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, bring to 23 the number of African
countries participating in a mechanism that allows their policies and practices
to be scrutinised by their peers.
In all, only a few would accuse
this week's summit of being yet another talk shop reminiscent of the
Organisation of African Unity era.
Despite the fact that the heads
of state did not discuss a damning report on human-rights violations in
Zimbabwe, the fact that the report was adopted by the AU's Executive Council of
Foreign Ministers can be seen as a major step forward.
In the days of the OAU, it is
doubtful that the report would have made it to the council meeting at all.
But despite the AU's progress
since its establishment, the body continues to be plagued by two major problems
- wars and a shortage of money.
Much of this week's proceedings
was delayed by side meetings on resolving the conflict in Sudan's Darfur and
Ivory Coast, the tensions between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda,
and the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The conflicts were also discussed
extensively at the summit.
Conflicts are a major stumbling
block to Africa's development.
"It is an established fact
that in order to achieve socioeconomic integration, political stability and
peace and security are necessary conditions," Obasanjo said.
But peace enforcement is
expensive and, with the AU battling to raise enough funds for its own
functioning, many believe the body is incapable of ending conflicts.
The summit this week refused to
approve a budget of $600-million a year, or $1.8-billion over three years, to
fund the AU's activities.
This includes a $200-million a
year peace fund.
Mbeki said the budget would now
be decided on at a meeting of foreign affairs ministers later this year.
But many believe the AU will not
be able to approve the budget as member countries are unable to raise that much
Last year, when the AU's budget
was about $43-million, member states contributed only around $13-million.
Some countries are too poor to raise
the annual membership contributions, not to mention the additional "soli
darity funds" that would be needed to support an expanded AU programme.
AU spokesman Desmond Orjiako says
the AU is considering a number of ways to raise the required funds.
Among these is a suggestion that
each member state allocate about 0.5% of its national budget to the AU.
"The appeal is for member
countries not to see the money they give to AU as money given away but as part
of their national budgets," Orjiako said.
Another proposal on the table, he
said, is the introduction of an AU tax on all flights within the continent.
Mbeki said African countries
wanted to rely on their own resources.
"With the detailed work done
between now and November, I hope it will be possible to find a solution,"
Failure to find a solution to the
funding problem would not only turn this week's summit into yet another
meaningless conference, but would severely weaken a young organisation trying
to make a break with the lethargic past of its predecessor. Sunday Times