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Joseph Yav is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He works with a network of African research institutes in support of the African peace and security agenda.

Saloman Kebede interviewed him on the upcoming 'Grand Debate on the Union Government' to be held at the June 2007 summit of the African Union.

The interview is part of a series of interviews, to be published by the Pambazuka AU-Monitor, with African citizens and civil society leaders on the AU proposal for continental government.

The interview was conducted by the Oxfam Pan-Africa Programme in the corridors of a civil society meeting organised by UN-CONGO and FEMNET in Addis Ababa in the week of the 13 March 2007. The interview was edited by Emily Mghanga of Oxfam’s Pan-Africa Programme.

Saloman Kebede: What form of continental government does Africa need?

Joseph Yav: Africa needs a continental government that depends on the people of Africa, not only their heads of state. Africa must forge its own direction, learning from the experiences of the US and the European Union.

Saloman Kebede: Why is continental union important to African citizens especially the poor and the marginalised?

Joseph Yav: Human emancipation and freedoms must be the focus of any union.

Saloman Kebede: How could integration be successful?

Joseph Yav: The focus must be based on a clear assessment of the progress of the African Union (AU) from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). How have we overcome poverty and conflict? What are the new ideas, opportunities and challenges for the African Union in future? How can we push the national and regional mechanisms? This would create a clear strategy for change.

Saloman Kebede: What one policy would you propose to be adopted in the continental organisation?

Joseph Yav: The Institute for Security Studies works mainly for a stable and peaceful Africa. We would want to see a clear focus in the area of peace and security. Because if there is no peace, there is no security. By security, I mean not only the security of states but human security as well.

Saloman Kebede: What milestones would you like to see achieved within the first two years?

Joseph Yav: Our heads of state and governments should focus first on the integration of people. Secondly, we should question the current structures - both positive and the negative. Finally, assess all the forms of integration, federational and others.

Saloman Kebede: What meaningful decisions would make this process people driven, rights based and publicly accountable to African citizens?

Joseph Yav: There is an urgent need to consult the civil society. Our leaders must depart from the experience of the OAU. Otherwise it will end up as a club of heads of states. We must change the idea of the union as a club of heads of state to an idea that is championed by the people of Africa. Heads of state have a right to make decisions, but the focus must be on people. Civil society has the right to also engage and contribute to this debate.

Saloman Kebede: Do you think the timing is right?

Joseph Yav: Yes and no. No, because it is coming too late in Africa’s history. The former President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah and others championed this idea 40 years ago. Secondly, this idea was re-proposed by heads of state as far back as 1999 in Sirte, Libya. Yes, if the idea is driven by African peoples: the time for a union is now!

The views expressed here are the perspectives of the interviewee. Joseph Yav can be reached at: [email][email protected]