Africa's Attempt at Unity

Building on slow but steady success in creating more democratic nations, African leaders took a leap last week and set up an organization that might someday resemble the European Union.

But the new African Union hardly comes close. Despite the fanfare of its debut in South Africa, the body comes tainted by the monied influence of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. And even Kenyan strongman Daniel arap Moi noted the ease with which many fine resolutions are quickly forgotten after African summits.

Yet the new AU serves as a beachhead for African leaders who have struck a deal with the West to improve governance in exchange for more aid, trade, and investment.

The AU replaces the weak Organization of African Unity, and has more authority. The new body can, for instance, intervene in nations where genocide or other gross human rights violations are taking place.

A growing consensus for reform in Africa has created a certain power of shame and forced a few nations' leaders to be less authoritarian. But a key measure of the Union's success will be whether its members pay their dues.

That be a sign of commitment, and it will also allow such practical steps as paying for election observers in Africa's many semidemocracies.

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