Awkward summit as Africa ponders role of Gadaffi

After an awkward year with Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi as chairperson, many at the African Union (AU) fear one thing: that the continent’s self-proclaimed “king of kings” will seek re-election.

Heads of state from the organisation’s 53 members are due to gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for their 14th summit, with a host of burning issues to tackle, ranging from ongoing conflicts to infrastructure development.

Gadaffi was elected almost by default a year ago but set the tone for his tenure by claiming to be the “king of kings” and vowing to achieve the “United States of Africa” project he has championed for years.

But his dream of a fully integrated continent, his pet craze since he pushed through the creation of the AU in 2001, still looks a tall order, and the unease was palpable in the corridors of the Addis Ababa headquarters ahead of the summit.

“Gadaffi’s chairmanship has been very harmful to the AU’s image, notably in the handling of political crises such as Madagascar and Guinea,” said an official close to Jean Ping, who heads the body’s main executive arm.

“The fact that the chairperson regularly speaks out against elections and advocates the Libyan model for Africa is a paradox in a body that supports democracy and the rule of law,” said the official, asking not to be named.

Shortly after being elected at the helm of the AU, Gadaffi gave his support to a military junta that toppled Mauritania’s president months earlier, essentially nullifying everything the pan-African body had previously said.

“It looks as if there are two parallel AU leaderships: on one side Jean Ping, who follows the organisation’s line on crisis management, and on the other Colonel Gadaffi, who has his own line, generally very far removed from that of the international community,” said a European diplomat.

“This is very harmful to the credibility of the African Union,” he added.

African leaders gathered in the Ethiopian capital are expected to pick a new annual chairperson as soon as the summit kicks off on Sunday.

The system of rotating regional blocs should hand the job to a Southern African leader and a consensus had begun to emerge around Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, but some diplomats fear Gadaffi will put up a fight.

“It is said that Gadaffi is determined to take this to a vote because he thinks enough countries will support him,” an AU official said.

Some continental heavyweights such as South Africa, Ethiopia and Uganda are virulently opposed to Gadaffi’s stranglehold on the AU.

But others, notably countries in the Sahel and West Africa, are faithful to the maverick Libyan leader and his oil dollars.

The theme of the summit is “Information and Communication Technologies [ICT] in Africa: Challenges and Prospects for Development.”

But beyond the sticky issue of the presidency and the meeting’s official agenda, discussions are also likely to focus on Africa’s many conflicts and political crises.

Madagascar is still in institutional limbo, Niger is on the brink after the president unilaterally changed the Constitution to pave the way for potential lifelong rule and progress is fragile in Guinea, where an interim administration has taken over from an unpopular junta which seized power.

The survival of Sudan’s north-south peace agreement is also a source of great concern and the AU’s peacekeeping mission faces an insurmountable task in an insurgency-ravaged Somalia.—AFP

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