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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Africa Buries OAU, Heralds New Union

DURBAN, South Africa -- African leaders gave a state funeral to their Organization of African Unity on Monday but were quickly warned against complacency by United Nations chief Kofi Annan.

At least 34 presidents and monarchs were at the opening of a two-day summit. On Tuesday they attend the birth of a new African Union, whose mission is to combat poverty, conflict and corruption.

The UN secretary-general, born in the West African state of Ghana, told leaders that Africa's vast size, economic underdevelopment, debt and legacy of war meant it would be much tougher to build the AU than it was to build the European Union.

"To build a successful union in such conditions will require great stamina and iron political will," Annan said in his summit speech in the South African port of Durban.

He said he sensed a new respect for Africa among Western governments but that warring had to stop before foreign investment would flow in.

"They will respect us even more when they see us actually resolve the conflicts that disfigure our continent. And I do mean resolve them. Managing them is not enough," he said.

Skepticism abounds, even among delegates in Durban, about the chances of the AU turning Africa into a haven of peace and clean government.

"Few if any of these men will give up power voluntarily," one official from a Horn of Africa country said.

"It's all about power and greed. How on earth do they think they're going to integrate this union?"

Despite progress in ending long-running wars in Sierra Leone and Angola, belligerents from Liberia to Sudan, passing through both Congos and the Great Lakes region, are still playing havoc.

Speakers in Durban pledged to strengthen democracy, but the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe was not on the agenda.

President Robert Mugabe was in the audience. An ex-guerrilla in office since 1980, after defeating white minority rule, he was declared winner of violent elections in March.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the summit host and one of three leaders who had Zimbabwe suspended from the Commonwealth after the polls, made no mention of Zimbabwe when he referred to successful recent African elections.

"These successes demonstrate that those who characterize ours as a hopeless continent are wrong," Mbeki said.

"As with many other things African, from the very beginnings of its life the OAU was dismissed by our detractors as an organization that was destined to fail," he said, calling the change from OAU to AU an evolution, not a death.

Durban police, on top alert, said they blew up a suspicious parcel early on Monday, about 500 meters from the venue.

"It was found that there was nothing in it ... it looked like a bag," police spokesman Vish Naidoo said.

Africa's towering statesman Nelson Mandela, 84, walked stiffly into the summit center, aided by a cane and by his wife Graca.

When the OAU was born in 1963, Mandela was starting 27 years in South African prisons. After the long struggle against white rule, Mandela was the country's first democratically elected president until 1999. Now he spends most of his time mediating in African and domestic conflicts.

His successor, Mbeki, will be formally elected the last chairman of the OAU and then elected the first chairman of the AU. The 53-nation membership is unchanged.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi claims parentage of the AU idea to strengthen African economic integration and the quality of its political governance.

 African leaders congregating in Durban have had to fight for attention against unlikely competition. Sardines and a glamorous horse race captured more of the imagination and newspaper headlines in the South African coastal city than a new pan-African body.

At this season every year countless billions of sardines race eastward along South Africa's Indian Ocean coast, their normal range extended by cooler waters.