ACCRA (Reuters) - African leaders have vowed to speed up the economic and political integration of their continent to pursue the goal of a United States of Africa, but they also agreed to study more closely how to achieve it.
The decision, announced close to midnight on Tuesday, followed three days of often heated debate at an African Union summit in the Ghanaian capital Accra that overran its scheduled closing time by half a day.
It represented a face-saving compromise between some leaders who wanted to set up a continental African government immediately, and others who favoured a more gradual, step-by-step approach.
“Clearly, we’re not there yet. it’s a step forward but we’re still a long way off,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf told reporters.
The decision to take six more months to study the implications and timing of the proposed creation of a federated African state stretching from the Cape to Cairo was a setback for at least two leaders, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.
Arguing that Africa, the world’s poorest continent, needed to speak and act as one in a globalized world, they had publicly advocated the immediate formation of a continental government.
They did this in the face of the more gradualist approach of presidents from southern and east Africa.
The summit host, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, sought to play down the divisions that had emerged at the meeting.
“The debate has not been about winners and losers, a majority or a minority, the ‘instantists’ or the ‘gradualists’,” he said in his closing remarks.
“We emerge with a common vision in principle for the realization of a union government. We all have a shared vision of a united, vibrant continental union,” said Kufuor.
Gaddafi and Wade were not in their seats in the conference hall when the closing Accra Declaration was read to reporters.
While affirming the need to accelerate economic and political integration, the document said a committee of AU ministers would study how a continental union under a single government would affect national sovereignties and existing regional economic blocs.
The committee would also consider a “road map” and timeframe for the construction of a United States of Africa that would be included in its report to be presented to the next summit of the 53-nation AU in January.
The decision for more study reflected the cautious position of leaders like South African President Thabo Mbeki, who had recommended strengthening existing regional economic communities before any setting up of a continental union and government.
“Excellent, I’m very happy,” Mbeki said when asked how he viewed the result of the summit.
Kufuor testily rebuffed reporters’ questions about how long it could take before a United States of Africa was formed and what kind of government it would have.
“It is not something we can tell beforehand. Africa shall evolve,” he said, adding this would be the subject of the study.
But Kufuor said Africa in its drive for continental unity would not strive to copy the models of the United States of America or the European Union.
“We want to do a custom-made thing, something to suit the unique attributes of our continent,” he said.
Additional reporting by Orla Ryan