The Chairmanship of the African Union (AU), passed on to the Libyan leader, Colonel Moammar Gadaffi, last week. It was a position that the Libyan leader has always craved, and he immediately promised that his tenure will be a period of action. What actions the African continent will witness, remain to be seen in the year ahead. But it is indicative of Gadaffi’s commitment and single-mindedness that African leaders had set aside the first day of the annual summit, last Sunday, to discuss the Libyan leader’s long-standing idea to establish a United States of Africa. It is an idea that has divided the continent, with a majority of countries being wary of the proposal and even more cautious about its proponent.
During the 2007 summit of the African Union in Accra, Ghana, the proposal for a Unity Government led to sharp divisions between a few countries that went along with the Libyan proposal, such as Senegal, and those in the majority, including important African countries like South Africa and Nigeria, that rejected the Gadaffi project and the manner that it was being canvassed. In the end, the 2007 motion for an African Unity Government was defeated. But many countries have also felt obliged to debate the idea, against the background of the huge financial support the Libyan leader has given many of the poorer countries of the continent. On the other hand, Libya has been accused of backing some of the most bloody rebel insurrections in different parts of the continent, such as the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone; Charles Taylor in Liberia and the different factions in many years of civil war in Chad. Libya disputed ownership of the Uranium-rich Aouzou strip with Chad for many years, leading to the intervention of France and other Western countries.
Colonel Gadaffi has always argued that a United States of Africa was the platform to meet the challenges posed by globalization; to fight poverty and resolve conflicts without the interference of the western nations. Gadaffi’s election as the Chairman of the African Union (AU), gives him the opportunity to be more pro-active in convincing the skeptics amongst the African leaders, to re-examine the entire project anew. But if the previous trend is a useful indication, it means that he is not likely to shift too many leaders from their very entrenched positions. However, there are many other issues which worry the African nations. The present world-wide economic crisis is reverberating into the African countries in a most severe manner. These are countries that produce primary products for the world capitalist economy, and the economic recession has led to the drop in the prices of African exports such as crude oil, in countries like Nigeria, Angola and Algeria plus even Libya.
It is the difficulty of the present economic condition, which made Nigeria to call on African countries to initiate projects at sub-regional levels, as a step towards expansive development of continental infrastructure. This it believes is a very useful way to keep the continent afloat in the turbulence which flows in the wake of the crisis of the world capitalist system: the worst of its kind since the Great Economic Depression of the 1930s. There are also the raging wars in the DRC, Somalia and the crisis in Darfur; not to forget the political crisis in Zimbabwe and the recent one in Madagascar and the re-emergence of military regimes in Mauritania and Guinea and an attempted coup in Guinea Bissau. The African democratic transitions have been very troubled over the years, as much as the economic situation has also been very difficult for most, if not all of the African countries.
Gadaffi is one of the longest-serving leaders on the African continent, having come to power in a military coup which overthrew the monarchy in 1969. He has led the transformation of Libya, on the basis of its huge oil reserves. But he has also been the leader of adventurous interventions in the affairs of many countries. That led to the regime of sanctions imposed by the Western nations; a severe bombing raid by the United States during the Reagan administration in the 1980s and the treatment of Libya as a pariah state by the Western powers. That problem with the west went on for most of the late 1980s into the early years of this decade, which saw the gradual removal of sanctions and the return Western companies into Libya, to mine its rich oil wealth as well as participate in the managed transition into a more open economic regime. Libya also agreed to end its programs of nuclear and biological weapons development as part of the process of its rehabilitation by the West.
Colonel Muammar Gadaffi is the leader of a small country who harbours a very large pan-Arab and lately, pan-African ambitions, way beyond the size of his country. But he has the resources to influence the behaviours of many of the leaders in the poor countries of the continent. Gadaffi has built mosques, hotels and roads in a number of these countries, from Mali to Uganda and Central Africa. Nevertheless, many of the countries do not share the enthusiasm for a continental unity government; it was the same suspicion which greeted a similar platform canvassed by the founding president of Ghana, Doctor Kwame Nkrumah, during the early years of African independence in the 1960s.
It will be very interesting to see what changes that Colonel Muammar Gadaffi can inspire in Africa over the next one year of his tenure, as the Chairman of the African Union (AU). The indications are likely to be that most of the countries of Africa will remain dug into the skepticism and suspicion with which they have always received many of the initiatives for a unity government on the continent, canvassed by the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gadaffi. But it is not likely to be a dull year under Gadaffi’s leadership, in Africa. And as we have noted, he has a lot to chew upon, from the African plate of economic and political crises as well as the almost intractable civil wars. The moment in Africa seems to have found its man of action in Colonel Muammar Gadaffi. The African people will watch with keen interest in the next year to see what the continental organisation, the African Union (AU) will be like, under Colonel Muammar Gadaffi.