ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - African leaders on Sunday again delayed concrete moves toward creating a United States of Africa, despite a long campaign by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi and other supporters like Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, have been calling for years for an accelerated process toward a union government, saying it is the only way to meet the challenges of globalization, fighting poverty and resolving conflicts without Western interference.
But they are opposed by other nations, headed by economic powerhouse South Africa, who see such an idea as a distant and impractical prospect.
Gaddafi's proposal dominated a sometimes heated African Union (AU) summit in Ghana in 2007, but no deal was reached.
The previous AU summit in Egypt last July produced a skeleton agreement and the first day of the current meeting in Ethiopia was devoted to the union proposal.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete told a news conference on Sunday night the meeting had agreed only to change the name of the current AU Commission into an "authority," rejecting a proposal by the body itself to transform it immediately into a union government.
Kikwete, the current AU chairman, said this would infringe the sovereignty of the AU's 53 states.
"In principle, we said the ultimate is a United States of Africa," Kikwete added, insisting the authority would have a bigger mandate, bigger budget and "bigger capacities" than the existing commission.
But he was vague on how its powers would expand.
Gaddafi has previously berated African leaders for delaying on his unity proposal, but asked about the often fiery Libyan leader's reaction, Kikwete said: "He was very supportive."
The Tanzanian president said the Addis summit would agree by its close on Wednesday on the new authority's structures but it would not be launched until the next summit in July. He said this would move the continent closer to a union government.
The new authority would have a president and vice president, and current AU commissioner positions would be transformed into the secretaries of "areas of shared competence" including poverty reduction, infrastructure, disease epidemics, peace and security and transnational crime and terrorism.
AU Commission chairman Jean Ping said recently that views on the speed of integration varied from nine to 35 years, but the continent needed to speak with a united voice to be heard in international negotiations on trade and other issues including climate change.
One east African delegate, who asked not to be named, said earlier that the summit felt obliged to discuss Gaddafi's pet project because of the large sums of money he has poured into parts of the continent.
"It is important to him, so they will discuss it. But the challenges of making it work, obviously, are vast," he said.
The official theme of this week's summit at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa is boosting infrastructure, which experts say is essential if Africa is to weather the global financial crisis.
But conflict and crisis in Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are expected, as usual at AU summits, to overshadow the official agenda.
Additional reporting by Barry Malone; Editing by Charles Dick