The African Union (AU) was launched with much pomp and ceremony in Durban, South Africa, on Tuesday. However, the crisis in Zimbabwe cast a shadow over the festivities.
Speaking to close to 20,000 people at a stadium during the launch, South African President, Thabo Mbeki said: "This is a moment of hope for the continent and its peoples. Let us proclaim to the world that this is a continent of democracy and good governance."
But the unresolved crisis in Zimbabwe will be a litmus test for the new AU.
The leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai - unable to attend the launch - sent a videotaped message saying the biggest challenge for the AU was the "illegitimate" government of President Robert Mugabe.
Tsvangirai said: "The meeting of AU heads of state presents an opportunity for Africa to make a fresh start. Dictators must not be allowed to get away with murder. The situation in Zimbabwe will test the AU's commitment to democracy and human rights."
The new union, arguably the most ambitious post-colonial project to unite Africa, came into effect on Tuesday replacing the 39-year-old Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Forty heads-of-state and other African representatives attended the first AU assembly.
The AU is expected to set in motion an era of accountability and improved governance. Leaders on Tuesday adopted rules and procedures for the four key organs of the new organisation.
The assembly of the AU, the supreme decision-making body, consists of the heads-of-state. While the executive council consists of foreign ministers. The permanent representatives committee is responsible for preparing work for the executive council.
Most of this committee's members are drawn from the diplomatic corps of member states.
Some believe the driving force of the AU will be the 10 member commission, responsible for coordinating the activities of the AU.
Closed-door discussions between leaders have focused on strengthening multi-lateralism, the empowerment of women and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). However, the crisis in Zimbabwe has been left off the summit's agenda.
"Zimbabwe was deliberately not discussed at this session. It is not part of African diplomacy to name and shame African leaders at such events," regional legal affairs analyst Prof Shadrack Gutto told IRIN.
MDC chairperson Isaac Matongo told IRIN that the MDC was not calling for the exclusion of Zimbabwe but had hoped that the AU would target Zimbabwe when enforcing the African peer review mechanisms under NEPAD.
Although it is not compulsory for countries to be signatories to the mechanism, NEPAD requires countries to commit themselves to good governance, in return for better trade and aid deals.
Matongo said that it was an embarrassment that the current political crisis was not tabled for discussion.
"However, we remain optimistic that the African Union will assist us to resolve this matter," said MDC secretary for International Affairs, Sekai Hollard.
Hollard added that the MDC had not abandoned its intention to call on Zimbabweans to take to the streets in protest against the deteriorating situation in the country, and continued to lobby for support in Africa.
"Almost six million are facing starvation. We cannot stop now. There has to be a change soon," she said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions