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Leaders struggle to reach deal on united Africa

An African summit ran long on Tuesday as leaders struggled to avoid a damaging public split over moves to unite the continent under one federal government.
/ Source: Reuters

An African summit ran long on Tuesday as leaders struggled to avoid a damaging public split over moves to unite the continent under one federal government.

The three-day meeting was one day longer than other recent summits and had only one agenda item, the campaign for a United States of Africa.

But hours after it was expected to end, the leaders were still wide apart and trying to find a compromise. Several delegations had already left for home.

While almost all the 53 member nations agree with the goal of African economic integration and eventual unity, most of the summit leaders want this to be a gradual process.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade lead a more radical group pushing for the immediate creation of a federal state stretching from the Cape to Cairo.

'All the people'
In a speech to the summit on Tuesday, Gaddafi proposed a referendum to settle the issue. The Libyan leader, who calls himself a soldier for Africa, says the decision should be made by the African masses and not leaders in conference halls.

"We ask all the heads of state to hold a referendum so that they will see that all the people want a United States of Africa," Gaddafi said.

Conference sources said Gaddafi appeared conciliatory in his speech, as did South African President Thabo Mbeki, the leader of the gradualist group.

The summit seemed to be trying hard to avoid any appearance of a crisis over the divisive issue.

Wade strongly promoted the creation of a union government when he spoke to journalists on Monday night.

"There is no salvation for Africa outside political unity. ... If we remain fragmented into little states, we will remain weak, politically weak," he said.

Asked about earlier Senegalese threats that a group of five or six states could forge ahead with federation, Wade said: "Theoretically, it is not excluded ... but I don't think we'll be going in that direction.

"If the conference as a whole makes progress towards a government that it calls a continental government, a union government ... that will create a basis that we can accept."

'Not in favor'
But the position of Wade, Gaddafi and their supporters is far from that of the majority gradualist group.

"In Uganda, we are not in favor of forming a continental government now," said President Yoweri Museveni, one of the more outspoken members of that group, based around the Anglophone southern and eastern blocs.

Museveni said that while economic integration was possible, people from different regions of Africa were incompatible politically and forcing them together would create tension.

"I salute the enthusiasm of those who advocate for continental government now. I however, do not want us to move from one mistake — Balkanisation — to another mistake of oversimplification of very complex situations," Museveni said.

Umaru Yar'Adua, newly elected president of Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, also came down on the side of gradualism.

With both Nigeria and South Africa, backed by the eastern and southern blocs, supporting a gradual process, the pro-union group looked isolated. Wade said the debate was finely balanced.

Lesotho's Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili summed up the view of the moderates: "Even as we pursue this noble objective, we cannot ignore the factors that militate against it." He said surrender of national sovereignty was a "tall order."