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Published: Monday, 2/9/2009

Africa s hopes

WITH the global economic crisis in the background, the African Union held its annual summit in Ethiopia this past week and elected Libyan Col. Muammar Kaddafi as its president.

The AU leaders from 53 countries then heard a formal presentation of Mr. Kaddafi s long-held belief that there should be a United States of Africa. It would include a single currency, military force, and passport for the whole continent, from Egypt to South Africa.

It is an old idea and it responds to one of Africa s major problems the plethora of mostly small, inefficient, unviable nations on the continent. Its first post-independence advocate was then Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah. It was rejected by most African countries, who saw it as his attempt to play a role on the world stage.

That is part of the objection to the idea now, this time with Mr. Kaddafi in the potential starring role.

The principal substantive reason that most African leaders oppose the idea is that most of them run their nations in a corrupt manner, with precious economic resources diverted into the pockets of their families or tribes.

The perfect case is Zimbabwe, whose 84-year-old president, Robert Mugabe, attended the summit and is not about to give up any authority to an Africa-wide organization. That view is shared by countries with oil or mineral resources, such as Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Nigeria, which have no intention of sharing their wealth with their poorer neighbors.

The summit s supposed agenda Africa s energy and transport issues, and its glaring political problems, which include Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Somalia were relegated to the back burner as the leaders heard out Mr. Kaddafi.

The summit s approach to problems on the continent needs to be considered by the Obama Administration as it develops a new Africa policy. But, in this case, the President s team should focus on the problems at hand rather than impractical dreams of the future.

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