ASSEMBLY OF THE AFRICAN UNION
Fifth Ordinary Session
4 5 July 2005
Sirte, LIBYA
OPENING SPEECH BY
HIS EXCELLENCY, PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJ0
PRESIDENT, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA,
CHAIRMAN OF THE AFRICAN UNION
AT THE FIFTH ORDINARY SESSION OF THE AU ASSEMBLY
SIRTE, LIBYA 4 JULY 2005

PROTOCOL

It is always a pleasure for me to be in Libya, whether in Sirte or in Tripoli, on a bilateral or multilateral basis, to meet with my dear brother, friend and colleague, Colonel Muammar Ghaddaffi. Today, we are all gathered here for the 5 t h Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union. I have no doubt in my mind that you are all savouring the typical Libyan hospitality. On behalf of all of us here present, I thank our brother, Col. Ghaddaffi, his Government and his collaborators as well as the brotherly people of Libya for their generous and legendary African hospitality.

May I also seize this opportunity to welcome all the Heads of State and Government, as well as other Heads of delegations to the 5 th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU. Our presence here today is again an affirmation of our collective determination to work with renewed vigour and commitment to address the various socio-economic and political challenges facing our continent.

I would also like to seize this opportunity to recognize in our midst, our invited guests and international partners whose presence amongst us today is a further testimony of their genuine desire to continue to collaborate with us for the development of Africa. On behalf of the African Union, I hereby express our profound gratitude and sincere appreciation for the support, which you have rendered to our organization especially in areas of fostering peace and security and also in addressing the daunting challenges of eradicating poverty and promoting efforts to achieve rapid and sustainable socio-economic development of our continent.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, since our July 2005 Summit, our organization has moved from having a once a year Ordinary Summit to having our Ordinary Session twice a year. The reason for this change was informed by our desire to have an opportunity to review the implementation of decisions taken, to enable those lagging behind in implementation to catch up while the fast trackers and the better performers can be commended and emulated. Our 5th Ordinary Session is indeed very important in many respects. It is taking place at a time when greater attention is being focused on Africa, when the International Community is at last saying: let us give serious consideration to some of the root causes of Africa's socio-economic problems and let us do something about them as it is now being expected in the G8 -Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland from 8 - 9 July 2005.

In this connection, I salute the initiative of Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain as encapsulated in the Report of the Commission for Africa. The Report has given additional support to, and vindicated our focus and emphasis on the nature, dimensions and implications of the crises in Africa. I commend Prime Minister Blair for his enthusiastic support for a frontal attack on poverty and underdevelopment in Africa.

However, the Report must be endorsed, owned and well funded by the G8 and other developed countries for it not to end up like previous reports. This is not the time for a lot of talk but more of a time for serious and concerted action. We must at this Summit, take a collective decision on the need for the developed nations to adopt and own the Report while putting up the resources to implement most of its recommendations. If this is not done, then the Report would be nothing more than a goodwill message to Africa with no substantive support to move the continent forward. Of course, we must remain resolutely committed to democracy, good governance, and best practices while generally creating the necessary conducive environment for fast socio-economic progress through political and economic reforms.

Allow me to commend all those of Africa's creditors who have agreed to write off the debts of the heavily indebted poor countries, (which include 14 member states of our organization) and are actively considering debt relief to those who are not included in the first category. While such forgiveness will do a lot to conserve scarce resources, for development in Africa, these countries still need the necessary life-lines and support to put them on the true path to growth and sustainable development.

Please permit me at this juncture to digress to thank the World Bank, the IMF, the G8 and the Paris Club for working together to consider some debt relief for Nigeria as well. We hope they will do some more for all of us. This Summit is also taking place at a time of the great reforms of the United Nations Organization and the UN Summit to review the progress towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in September 2005.

You will recall that in Abuja last January, we endorsed the setting-up of a Ministerial Committee of Fifteen on the Report of the UN Secretary General's High-Level Panel on the Reform of the United Nations. We also mandated the Executive Council to convene, in Extraordinary Session, by March 2005, to adopt a Common African Position on the various aspects of the High-Level Panel's recommendations, not the least of which is the enlargement of the Security Council. Recently, too, the President of the General Assembly released a report proposing a Draft
Outcome Document for the Summit of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to take place in September 2005.

It is gratifying to note that both the Executive Council and the follow-up Committee continue to be seized with the issues and have been making contacts with other groups and stakeholders to canvass support for the African Common Position as contained in the "Ezulwini consensus". We will be helping ourselves and the UN itself if we emerge from this Summit with a common African position on the UN Reform proposals. To prepare ourselves for the General Assembly Summit on the MDGs in September 2005, we have mandated the AU Commission to work together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Development Bank (ADB) to undertake the review from the perspective of Africa to guide our adoption of a Common African Position on the subject. This, together with the issues of the reforms of the United Nations, inter alia, constitutes the key elements of our agenda at this session. President Museveni will give us the report of the Committee chaired by him to advise on the proposal by Brother Ghaddaffi for appointment of Union Ministers.

The current situation in Africa which both Summits i.e. the G8 and the UN Summit will be faced with, are the slow pace of development, increasing level of poverty and the rising rate of unemployment. These are no doubt unimpressive indicators, which can only be redressed through a genuine commitment by the international community to help Africa out of its doldrums. For Africa to achieve the MDGs, it will require not only the debt forgiveness for which we have been vigorously campaigning but also a massive inflow of finance through repatriation of corruption tainted funds in foreign banks, the fulfillment of commitments made by our development partners, new funds through investments and ODA, and our collective political will to undertake our own part for our upliftment.

I have personally taken this campaign to all possible fora. Conferences of the World Food Programme (WFP), FAO, International Labour Organization (ILO), South Summit, Africa-Asia Summit, World Economic Forum, United Kingdom, United States, France, Japan, India, China, Indonesia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and The Netherlands all in our effort to get a better deal for Africa. We must never be tired of seeking partners and cooperation for dealing with problems in our continent.

This Summit is taking place at a time when we, as African leaders, can look back with some satisfaction on the efforts we are making to find solutions to the many challenges facing us. Challenges of poverty, youth unemployment, endemic diseases, and deaths from preventable diseases continue to militate against peace, security, development and progress Collectively, African leaders have said loud and clear and demonstrated our resolve that never again shall we allow unconstitutional changes of government in our continent. If such a change occurs, that leader is on his/her own as recently demonstrated by the events in Togo and the resolve demonstrated by ECOWAS to return the country to constitutional rule. Let me welcome President Faure Gnassingbe into our midst as he takes his place as a democratically elected leader of his country, Togo. I thank those of you who stood for what is right for Africa and in maintaining seriousness and consistency. We had earlier ushered in President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo and President Francois Bozize Yangouvondia of Central Africa Republic to occupy the seats of their countries following an end to non-constitutional rule after successful democratic elections.

Let there be no doubt in any one's mind about our commitment in Africa to resolve our problems and usher in an era of posterity, which we hope to bequeath to future generations. To achieve this, we must not only consolidate our efforts but also learn and emulate best practices in the area of socio-economic and political reforms taking place in our countries, towards the emergence of a new Africa, an Africa with a firm belief in and a commitment to democracy, transparency, rule of law, socio-economic development and peaceful and prosperous society. To this end, Africa is ready to engage in strategic partnerships with all our friends and well wishers outside the continent for mutually rewarding relationships and engagements that will be beneficial to Africa.

These objectives cannot be attained in an atmosphere of war, crises, political disturbances and upheavals. Regrettably, there are still challenges in the area of peace and security that need to be addressed with renewed vigour and determination to guarantee peace and stability of our continent.

The 5th round of Inter-Sudanese Peace Talks on Darfur resumed in Abuja on 10 June 2005 and have been going on steadily but not without challenges which we have tried to resolve. Our desire is to pursue the talks until enduring agreements are reached between the parties. Let me however once again appeal to the Sudanese Parties that the conflict in Darfur will only be prolonged if they continue to maintain the hard-line posture they have exhibited during the Inter-Sudanese Peace Talks in Abuja or their continued refusal to honour the terms of agreements they have entered into. As it has often been repeated, the patience and resources of the international community are not limitless. So, the warring parties in the Sudan must seize this opportunity of the goodwill demonstrated by our development partners towards achieving peace. Of course, we still face a lot of logistical problems especially with moving troops to Darfur but we are making progress with receiving the necessary support in this area.

The situation in C ô te d'Ivoire is evolving in accordance with the Pretoria Agreement brokered by our brother and colleague President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and his collaborators. We note with satisfaction the renewed commitment of all parties in C ô te d'Ivoire signed on 29 June 2005, only last week. We commend all the stakeholders in the C ô te d'Ivoire conflict for the progress so -far achieved and urge them to pursue the path of peace till complete normalcy is restored throughout the country and elections held in October. The first series of election have been successfully held in Guinea Bissau and the run-off is only a few days away. We call on all people of Guinea Bissau to continue to eschew violence and disturbance. Guinea Bissau will need all hands on deck for reconstruction after their elections are over. For the success in Guinea Bissau so far, I want to place on record our appreciation to the Secretary General of the United Nations for appointing former President Chissano of Mozambique as his Special Envoy to that country. I must not forget to mention the commitment of ECOWAS under its Executive Secretary and the special attention of President Wade.

While equally praying for successful elections in Liberia in October, I must bring the harassment of Nigeria by some section of the international community to the attention of this Summit. To avoid bloodbath in Liberia the leaders of Africa at ECOWAS and AU levels agreed to persuade Charles Taylor to voluntarily give up power and leave his country. Nigeria agreed to receive him and President Kuffor as the then Chairman of EC0WAS and Presidents Mbeki and Chissano as outgoing and incoming chair of AU respectively brought Charles Taylor to Nigeria. I received him for and on behalf of the AU. We were applauded then for finding a unique peaceful African solution to a potentially dangerous and bloody situation. The UN Secretary-General, the Security Council and the Permanent Members individually endorsed and supported our action even though the now bandied indictment of Charles Taylor had been mentioned in Sierra Leone by that time.

Without substantiated new allegations against Charles Taylor since he came to Nigeria for wrongdoing in his country or in another country, we are being pressured, harassed, blackmailed, even intimidated and even threatened to hand over Charles Taylor contrary to the terms of his voluntary departure from his country. At this stage, I am just reporting and so far, we are managing the process and we are talking to those that we need to talk to. Nothing should be done advertently or inadvertently that will create credibility problem for us in conducting affairs in our continent or elsewhere. If there is no abatement of pressures and harassment and if it is considered necessary, we will come back to formally place the matter before the AU and ECOWAS for decisions. We should never do anything to destabilize the seemingly smooth transition process going on in Liberia and thereby once again destabilize West Africa.

NEPAD is now four years old and has made admirable progress that reflect our renewed commitment to collective attention to our problems. NEPAD has continued to work effectively with regional economic communities, build African capacities, attract technical support from our development efforts, and work actively on feasibility studies for projects that are designed to change the face of our continent for the better. NEPAD is also building positive relationships with important stakeholders within and beyond Africa in addition to establishing a fund to generate resources internally for infrastructural development. I urge you all to continue with your support for this and other initiatives of NEPAD. The NEPAD Secretariat will circulate a comprehensive Progress Report on NEPAD covering July 2004 to June 2005 at this Summit.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, good governance is taking root in Africa. The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) of NEPAD had the Third Summit of the Committee of Participating Heads of State and Government in Abuja on 19 June 2005. Country Review Report of Ghana and Rwanda were presented. The reports are being studied for an in-depth consideration at the next APR Forum scheduled for Abuja in August 2005. By the end of the year, six African countries would have undergone the Peer Review Process.

The acceptance of the APRM by an-increasing number of African countries, 23 at the last count, further demonstrates the consciousness of African leaders towards good governance as a foundation for sustainable development. The international community, development partners in particular, are increasingly endorsing the APRM as evidence of collective commitment to good governance, good leadership, shared values and experiences, and willingness to move radically away from the past. I wish to use this occasion to acknowledge the support of our development partners towards the various initiatives of the AU such as the APRM Trust Fund, peace efforts in the Sudan and other conflict areas in the continent.

Poverty remains endemic in Africa. The good news however, is that at national and continental levels, there is increased awareness of the linkage between grinding poverty on the one hand and alienation from government and political instability on the other. In addition, our development partners are beginning to speak more of increased foreign aid, better terms of trade, and other technical support to change the situation. In this regard, I wish to acknowledge and thank the organizers and participants in the Live Eight concert for their role in raising awareness about the situation in Africa and their continuing support for various antipoverty programmes and initiatives.

Whatever we do, we must pay very special attention to the youth. Among other reasons, the youth represent our future and we must invest in them today to secure that future. This is critical if we are thinking about leadership for the future and a successor generation. In this regard, I want to challenge the AU Commission to work out ways for initiating an integrated and viable youth programme including how we can share experiences and best practices. Hopefully, we can have a report by the next Summit.

The connection between science and technology and national development has been established. I urge you all to take a second look at your respective science and technology programmes, training opportunities, and funding for relevant research institutions. We also need programmes that are designed to demystify science and technology by taking it to the grassroots and making it the basis of their everyday living. In today's highly complex and competitive world, science, technology and information systems are critical to planning, policy, decisions, and progress. The digital divide only widens the already unacceptable gap between the developed and developing countries. On this note, let me urge you all to support and contribute financially to the Digital Solidarity Fund that is designed to address the issue of science, technology, development and peace among other salient issues. It is important that we remain active at all global fora for discussion and decision-making on science, technology and information packaging and dissemination. Allow me to call on you all to attend and participate in the World Information Society meeting scheduled for Tunisia in November this year. On your behalf, I have invited Professor Hassan who is the President of the African Academy of Sciences to have an opportunity to brief us during this Summit on the issue of Science, Technology and Development. I have also invited two other important guests: Professor Jeffery Sachs will give us an update on the UN Millennium Projects and poverty eradication, while Mr. Hillary Benn will brief us on the UK Commission for Africa.

It is essential that I pay particular attention to our, progress on the agricultural sector. While there is still so much to do to improve on our agricultural policies and practices, create jobs, expand productivity, and feed our industrial sectors with raw materials, we have made progress in utilizing new technology, improved seedlings, combating drought, exchanging, information and best practices, and generally seeking external markets for our products. More countries have developed interest in growing cassava for export. Nigeria exported its first quantity of cassava products to China recently. We cannot rest on our oars and must continue to find innovative ways to make agriculture the hub of our development agenda. In this connection, we propose to hold a Roundtable on Fish production in Africa before the end of the year. The potential of aquaculture is almost untapped. The roundtable may lead to a Fish Summit.

As a follow up to the Progress Report on the Implementation of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SODEGA) that was adopted following the debate in July 2004, and in line with Equality to resuscitate the Pan-African Women's Organisation (PAWO), the African Women Leaders Think-Tank convened a meeting in Otta, Nigeria in April 2005 which I attended. I am happy that -the report of that meeting entitled, Road Map for Sustainable Upliftment of African Women , has been submitted to the Permanent Representatives' Committee and the Executive Council. I am particularly pleased to note that many African countries and organisations are making significant efforts at promoting gender equality and in particular, the rights of women. The number of women in critical or strategic positions is on the rise and more needs to be done. We must continue to give the on-going initiative all the required support. The African Women Leaders Think-Tank has agreed to meet annually to monitor and review progress being made in general to enhance the status of women in Africa.

It is important at this juncture to acknowledge the efforts by leaders at the local government levels in Africa who have now brought together the three umbrella continental organisations of local governments that had previously existed in Africa into one pan-African body- the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA). I was opportuned to address the founding Congress of the UCLGA in Tswane (Pretoria) South Africa in May 2005. I commend their commitment to taking good governance to the grassroots and building new structures of accountability, service delivery, social justice and democratic development. The new organization deserves our full support and collaboration to advance the cause of Africa.

The year 2006 will be the fifth year of HIV/AIDS Summit in Abuja and the sixth year of Roll Back Malaria Summit. It will be appropriate time to review the progress made on the implementation of the Abuja Plan for Roll Back Malaria and HIV/AIDS. If we will reach the Millennium Goals in the area of fighting the deadly diseases of HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, we must re-arm ourselves. In preparation for the re-armament, we will call for another Summit in 2006 to raise awareness and resources from within and from without against the trio of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis- the major killers on the continent of Africa.

As you all know, rapid urbansation, industrialization, and engagement with people and communities around the world tend to precipitate all sorts of crimes and vices. Accordingly, I have taken up the issue of "Crime and Development in Africa" with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) because crime is generally anti-development, compromises the process of planning, and negates the true African values of peace, accommodation, and hard work: As we work out a continental agenda on this; it will be presented to you for consideration.

After the Tsunami disaster that affected Asia and Africa, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction has been paying more attention to how to prepare adequately for natural and man­made disasters. We in Africa must be part of this exercise by mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction into poverty reduction policies and programmes at the national and regional levels. On this note, I call on the international community to earmark some resources for this purpose.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, before I end these remarks, I would like to commend the Ministers and Ambassadors/Permanent Representatives to the AU, for the dedication they have always demonstrated towards the preparation of our work. I would also like to express the same sentiments to men and women of the AU Commission under the able leadership of Professor Alpha Oumar Konare for their continued dedication and loyalty to our organization.

It is now my honour and privilege to declare the 5th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union formally open. I wish us all successful deliberations:

May God continue to bless Africa. Thank you.