LUSAKA, Zambia — The Organization of African Unity chose a former foreign minister of Ivory Coast to lead the group during its yearlong transformation into the African Union, officials said Tuesday.
Amara Essy, who also served previously as Ivory Coast's ambassador to the United Nations, was elected secretary-general of the OAU late Monday, said Charles Kibelloh, permanent secretary in Tanzania's Foreign Ministry.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised Essy as "particularly well-qualified to lead the organization during this challenging period."
Essy will lead the group for a year as it transfers its assets to the new African Union, envisioned as a closer-knit, stronger organization.
"We look forward to close collaboration with him in addressing issues affecting the African region," Annan said in a statement Tuesday, the second day of the OAU's final leadership summit.
Plans for the African Union, first proposed in 1999 by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, include an African central bank, a court of justice, a single currency and a parliament.
However, many analysts remain skeptical that African countries will be willing or able to donate the money and resources necessary to implement that program.
More than 40 heads of state attended the three-day summit in the Zambian capital. They also discussed the merger of two plans for creating a prosperous Africa and ongoing efforts to resolve several conflicts on the continent, including the wars in Congo and Burundi.
In an opening address Monday, Annan told the leaders the effort to create stronger bonds among African states would require "leadership, courage and a willingness to depart from the ways of the past."
Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, who was named chairman of the OAU during the transition, said Africa was being asked to make an important choice — "A choice towards peace, stability, unity, tolerance and reconciliation, or face relegation into unending conditions of insecurity, hate, discord and total oblivion."
Essy was elected as the OAU's last secretary-general in the eighth round of balloting after two others had withdrawn.
The other candidates were Lansana Kouyate of Guinea, the executive secretary of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, and Namibian Foreign Affairs Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab.
Kouyate withdrew after the first round of voting. In the following six rounds, no candidate secured enough votes for the required two-thirds majority. After a break, Gurirab announced his withdrawal, and Essy was then elected.
As a special envoy of the late Ivory Coast's President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Essy advocated his country's policy of trading and communicating with South Africa's apartheid regime while other OAU member states imposed sanctions on the minority government.
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