Nelson Mandela, visiting Tunis for the first time since he called to ask Tunisia for help in the armed struggle against apartheid 32 years ago, was welcomed with a standing ovation. The liberation of South Africa has given the continent a psychological lift and greater self-respect but Mr Mandela played down expectations that South Africa would bail out other African countries.
Calling for an African renaissance, Mr Mandela said: 'The titanic effort that has brought liberation to southern Africa and ensured the total liberation of Africa constitutes an act of redemption for the black people of the world.' He called the new South Africa 'a gift of emancipation' to whites.
'Africa cries out for a new birth. We must bend every effort to rebuild the African economy,' he said. But he added that the South African government was still trying to settle down and was addressing formidable problems.
Before Mr Mandela spoke, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt called for a minute's silence for three African presidents killed since the last summit and for all victims of bloodletting on the continent.
In a reference to Rwanda, Mr Mandela said: 'Even as I speak, Rwanda stands out as a stern and severe rebuke to all of us for having failed to address these inter-related matters . . . As a result of that, a terrible slaughter of the innocent has taken place and is taking place. We know it as a matter of fact that we have it in ourselves as Africans to change all this. We must in action assert our will to do so.'
Behind the scenes, acrimonious argument was developing over a resolution on Rwanda. A representative of the rump of the Rwanda government, held responsible for the massacres by most observers, has been allowed to take the official Rwanda seat, while the rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front is present as an OAU guest. The OAU last week organised separate consultations with each side to try to end the conflict, but with little success.
The rift is following colonial lines, with mainly Francophone countries such as Zaire, Burundi and Gabon lining up behind the Rwanda government, while the Rwanda Patriotic Front is defended by Anglophone countries such as Uganda and Ghana. Despite such splits, this year's meeting may reinvigorate the 31-year-old body, which has scored few successes in stopping civil wars.
Hamstrung by rules over non-interference in internal affairs and acceptance of colonial borders, African leaders were unable to act together over conflicts. Year after year the OAU summit inveighed against apartheid, but when change came, the OAU has had no role at the core of the peace process. It was excluded from the negotiations that led to the independence of Namibia and negotiations in South Africa.
Africa's other wars in Angola, Mozambique, Liberia and Somalia have been handled by the United Nations but after the United States' disastrous intervention in Somalia, Washington has diminished its commitment to UN intervention and the military capacity of the UN has been curtailed.
Prompted by this, African heads of state are looking to intervention and conflict- resolution by Africans. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been promoting an African peace-making committee. The OAU, which is owed dollars 70m ( pounds 47m) in unpaid dues by member-states, approved such a body in principle at its Cairo summit last year, but a mechanism has yet to be established.
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