Lagos, Nigeria - During his lifetime, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who died Tuesday aged 58, saw himself as a friend of Africa, a continent that he believed suffered the same fate as his native Latin America in the hands of colonialists.
There is no doubt that Africans also considered the late Venezuelan leader as a friend, as he was invited to attend the 7th AU summit as an observer. His attendance of the summit coincided with that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, another invited observer.
In an extemporaneous speech to African leaders attending the AU summit, Chavez called for cooperation between the peoples of Africa and Latin America (not forgetting the Caribbean), in the spirit of South-South cooperation.
Specifically, the charismatic leader, whose speech was punctuated with applause many times, suggested the establishment of a joint commission to set up four projects, which he listed as 'Petrosouth, Telesouth, Bank of the South and University for the South'.
He said through Petrosouth, the leaders would harness the power of oil, which he called a powerful instrument for social development, to develop their peoples.
'It (oil) was used by the colonialists (to oppress us). We are now going to use it to liberate our peoples,' he said.
The Venezuelan President said Telesouth would involve the establishment of a television station for the peoples, while the Bank of the South would be a development bank to assist the poor from the three areas.
Chavez said the University of the South would help train the youths of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean in key areas.
Explaining his decision to attend the summit, the first time by a Venezuelan leader, Chavez said he had come to strengthen the relationship between Africa and Latin America, calling the people of Latin America a mixture of Africans and American Indians.
He said Africa, with vast human and material resources, was not poor but rather suffering from years of exploitation by the colonialists.
Rounding off his well-received speech, Chavez said: 'Long live Africa, Long live Arabia and long live Iran in freedom and equality,' as he stole a quick glance at President Ahmadinejad, who was to follow him in addressing the summit until an equipment hitch forced a two-hour
PANA reports that while there is no documented follow-up to Chavez' call for the establishment of a Joint Commission between Africa and Latin America, it is believed that his visit helped to prepare the grounds for the emergence, in later years, of the Africa-South America (ASA) summit, the second edition of which was hosted by his country, Venezuela, in Sept. 2009.
Notably, the second ASA summit approved 'a proposal that Venezuela take on the responsibility of organising the ASA secretariat from now on. The secretariat would meet on Margarita Island and would ensure implementation of the plans and projects coming out of the summit.'
With the death, from cancer, of a leader - seen as a friend of the poor by his admirers and as a dictator who frittered away his country's oil wealth by his critics - it remains to be seen if the decision to have Venezuela host the ASA Secretariat will survive the death of Chavez