Business first says OAU.

Author:Versi, Anver
Position:Organization of African Unity - Cover Story

The OAU Summit in Tunis was a watershed in the history of the organization. Apart from the historic presence of the new South Africa under Nelson Mandela, the mood of the organization's member states was one of economic optimism. The long awaited economic upturn, many believe, has now started in earnest. African Business editor, Anver Versi, was there.

The Tunis OAU Summit in June was a watershed in more ways than one. As South Africa proudly took its seat among the free nations of Africa, an old chapter was closed and a new one opened. Mr Nelson Mandela's victory in South Africa's first free elections closed the ancient chapter which had begun with slavery and colonization and culminated in the apartheid system. One war for the total liberation of Africa was over; the drum-beats for the second war of liberation were sounded at Tunis.

Mr. Mandela set the tone when, in his ringing first address to the OAU, he called for a new renaissance of Africa. The dark interregnum, he told a rapt audience, is now over. "Carthage must be rebuilt" he said. Carthage, the ancient site of Tunis and centre of a flourish African civilization, had been destroyed by the Romans. Rebuilding Carthage meant recreating African civilization and regaining the lost dignity of the African.

The new war of liberation, Mr Mandela said, is the economic war. He was cheered to the echo because he had once again caught the popular mood. The buzz phrase at the Tunis summit had been "Business First".

"The political agenda is now over" said Dr Remmy Kabanda Mushota, the Zambian Foreign Minister, "it is now all about the economy".

Tide of rising optimism

There is a tide of rising optimism within Africa that the economic upturn has at last begun. There is a palpable determination not only to survive economically but to thrive and even prevail. "The so-called Tiger economies of South East Asia" added Dr Mushota "were in as poor a state as Africa is today. Look at them now! If they can do it, so can we".

There is no doubt that the entry of South Africa, with its massive industrial and agricultural base, into the mainstream African economy has raised expectations that a miracle is not only possible, but probable.

However, Dr Salim Salim, the Secretary-General of the OAU cautioned against misplaced optimism. Huge problems still remain. The international debt remains a millstone around Africa's neck, preventing it from rising above the shallows. In 1980, the debt was estimated at...

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