The Islamic Post Blog

African Union Has a New Leader by ipinfo2
March 25, 2009, 6:07 am
Filed under: March Volume 2009, World | Tags: , , ,

By Abu Rashid Qadri
Islamic Post Staff Writer

(IP)- “Our parties are tribal parties – that is what has led to bloodshed,” Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was quoted as stating at the final press conference of the African Union Summit. In a session closed to the public, the Libyan leader was voted in as the new head of the 53-nation African Union. The colonel was immediately confronted by the unstable conditions in Madagascar and with growing cries to prosecute Sudan’s president for war crimes. Not to be deterred, Mr Qaddafi made it known that his main intent is to forge ahead and establish a “United States of Africa,” transforming the continent into a single, borderless, nation-state ruled by a single government.
Extensive financial help has been given by the oil-rich nation to help lift neighboring countries, and Muammar Qaddafi’s political influence is growing on the continent. Nevertheless, speculation tends to cling to Mr Qaddafi from many quarters due to his ties, as a socialist country, with the former Soviet Union, and alleged terrorist acts of its nationals in the past.
A number of African leaders certainly do not agree with Qaddafi’s ambitions for Africa, nor are they in favor of him holding this high profile position. Yet, the rules for the intergovernmental organization dictate that the post rotates among Africa’s regions. This year was set to go to a North African leader and Mr Qaddafi was the only one present.
Some leaders criticized his human rights record and view of democracy and to the AFP. “He has a deplorable idea of democracy. He thinks it’s necessary to crush the opposition. In his country, there is no opposition, human rights are not respected,” Hermann Yameogo of Burkina Faso, whose father Maurice Yameogo was the country’s leader, then known as Upper Volta, in the early 1960s. A rights group in the Republic of Congo is also worried about the choice of Qaddafi to lead the Pan-African body. “For us, this selection sends a bad message,” said Christian Mounzeo, head of the Meeting for Peace and Human Rights, “[Given] the state of human rights and the exercise of authoritarian power in his country.”
Amongst Africans, opinions differ. Wongani Makhala, an IT worker in Malawi had this to say to the BBC: “I think he is a compassionate man; after all he did eventually release those Bulgarian nurses accused of infecting Libyan children with HIV.” Amos Marube, a journalism student in Nairobi, Kenya told the BBC: “He [Qaddafi] wants to unite the continent – but here in Kenya we are already so divided by tribalism. Regionally East Africa isn’t really unified either. If African countries are unable to unite nationally and regionally, I can’t see how Qaddafi would be able to unite us as a continent. “I’m an admirer of Qaddafi as a leader though. I would describe his leadership ‘positive dictatorship’ and he has done some great things for Libya.”
Although not in agreement with any form of dictatorship, Libya seems to have redeemed itself abroad to a great degree. Libya formally denounced terrorism in August 2003 in a letter to the UN Security Council, and began paying damages amounting to tens of millions of dollars to the victims of violent political crimes allegedly committed by its nationals. UN sanctions against Libya  were lifted the following month, to the joy of the agricultural sector, which mostly consists of desert and must import food to avoid the starvation of ordinary Libyans. Three years later former U.S. President George W. Bush rescinded Libya’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism and reestablished diplomatic efforts in the country.
Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, was in attendance at the Summit and cautioned those present to use diplomacy and to stay within constitutional guidelines when searching for solutions to problems confronting them. However, most heads of state had departed by the time the compromise was struck that allowed Mr. Qaddafi to declare a victory.
Mr. Qaddafi admitted there are deep divisions in the African Union about his idea, the United States of Africa, but in a speech to the closing Summit session, he outlined a long-term vision of a fully united Africa, under one flag. “It is a government of the union. It is an authority, a government. There will be secretaries,… coordinators for various policies, like defense and foreign affairs and defense policies and foreign policies that are divergent and we will coordinate everything and our defense policies for Africa,” the Libyan president said.
While meetings of African leaders usually run two days, the Summit in Addis Ababa dragged into a fourth day with members deadlocked over AU chairman Qaddafi’s proposal for a central administration with sweeping powers. Only a handful of heads of state were in the room to hear the Libyan leader’s closing remarks. But most of Africa’s big powers, such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, are sticking to the position that it will not be a government with sovereign powers for the foreseeable future.
African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping says even the small step of changing the name of the permanent secretariat from a commission to an authority, as agreed at the Summit, could take years, because it requires a charter amendment that must be ratified by two-thirds of the member states. African diplomats and observers say that the name change gives opponents of the plan the time they need to delay it indefinitely.

Researcher Noora Ahmad contributed to this report. Sources: VOA, State Dept.


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