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Kaddafi the African

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The house of Africa has always been in trouble and Libya's take over the leadership of the African Union (AU) is not likely to change anything. For one full year, Muamar Kaddafi will lead the AU, probably to an uncertain future.

Not that the organization was already on the right path, but it is unclear how Kaddafi will proceed. And yet, so many voices in Africa, including Franklin Cudjoe, a contributor to this issue, are in favor of allowing the Libyan leader to take a more leadership role and see where it all goes. But equally impressive is the amount of skepticism surrounding the new Libyan leadership role as many African governments voiced their displeasure. Among the chief opponents of the Libyan move is South Africa and most of its allies, who see in Kaddafi's idea of a unified confederation of states as a challenge to their own sovereignty and influence.

For Kaddafi, a United States of Africa has been a dream ever since he realized that unifying the Arabs was an impossibility. The U.S. of Africa would encompass all the peoples of the continent from its northernmost region to its southernmost tip, and everyone in between. In power since 1969, Kaddafi first saw himself as the one who would lead the Arab world as a continuation of the late Egyptian leader Jamal Abdel Nasser’s revolutionary path. The path would be built on the basis of a nationalist military regime that is essentially not open for negotiation or compromise. Anti western attitude would dominate the rhetoric and the literature emanating from the new regime. The first articulation of the Kaddafi unification plan was the first alliance inked in 1974 between Libya and neighboring Tunisia, call it the low hanging fruit. Although the then Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba endorsed the union, it was never formalized by the Tunisian parliament. The union failed only a few months after the two leaders agreed on its terms.

Then Kaddafi turned his sight to Morocco with the signing in Rabat in 1986 of an Arab and African Union (AAU). If the union did not emerge as an important player, it enabled, however, reconciliation between Morocco’s King Hassan and Libya's Kaddafi. The Libyan leader later joined his North African counterparts on February 17, 1989 to endorse the Marrakech Treaty creating the Union of the Arab Maghreb (UAM). But once again, internal infightings, personalities that often clashed and the never ending Western Sahara conflict pitting Morocco to Algeria remained and continue to be major obstacles to any regional union or integration.

After several attempts, Kaddafi proposed yet another idea, that of Union of Sahel States (USS), with nations from Egypt to the east, all the way to southern Morocco to the west being part of such union. Once again, the effort yielded no results, but provided the basis of a Union of African States, later renamed United States of Africa.

In pursuing a continental federated union, Muamar Kaddafi has his work cut out. Obstacles abound and are massive considering that there are 50 nations, many at war, diverse populations with a mosaic of ethnicities, cultures and civilizations. This year, as he leads the African Union, Kaddafi will have a front seat to witness the world's biggest problems in his own continent. From illiteracy to deadly epidemics, from tribal wars to ethnic conflicts, the continent's problems expand to issues of poor governance, corruption, nepotism, and an endless list of ills and problems, many of which come from the style of leadership that Kaddafi has himself supported and even embodies.

But on the positive side, Africa is also synonymous of enormous economic potential and real proven mineral wealth that developed economies would like to grab. Can Kaddafi lead Africa to a better path? To do so, he will have to re-brand himself and his country as different in the 21st century as in the previous. He will have to shed the image of nepotism and that of an erratic leader to one who brings intelligence and strategy for sustainable growth and peace in Africa. The good news for Kaddafi is that many of the African leaders who have dealt with him in the past and had a bad experience are no longer in leadership roles. In fact, many died. If they were to testify on the character of Kaddafi as an African leader, they would unanimously say that he is the wrong man for this mission. Yet even the new generation of leaders in Africa may not be so keen as to follow Kaddafi’s ideas so quickly. In particular since the Algiers-Pretoria axis, which has emerged as a serious obstacle to Kaddafi's African ambitions, has been strengthen the past years and could prove to be a tough opposition to avoid.
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