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Opinions of Sunday, 8 February 2009

Columnist: Acheampong, Osman

Gaddafi has earned the right to be AU Chairman

The selection of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on Monday February 2, 2009 in Addis Ababa has been met with very strong criticism by both Africans and some non-Africans. It has also been met with a few praises mostly by die hard Pan African Afrocentrics who turn to agree with Gaddafi on the need to accelerate African unity. The official line coming from the AU summit to this opposition is that “the proposal by Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi would add a layer of bureaucracy that the continent does not need”, but it is also a well known fact that some leaders are simply against the idea of Col. Gaddafi running the AU and some are plainly against the idea of total integration of the continent.

I personally think that the issue of total integration is very delicate even though it is achievable and should be pursued aggressively. The final form of it will be determined by the realities on the ground and how much the ordinary peoples of the continent are willing to sacrifice to achieve it. In the end it might look like the United States of America or it might look like the European Union. I believe Dr. Nkrumah’s own vision was for it to look like the USA since the EU was only been conceived at the time. However, the purpose for this article is not to debate African integration but to make the argument that the Libyan leader has really earned the right to be the head of the AU for one year, and in my opinion it is long overdue.

Before the formation of the AU Libya has played a very active role in the then OAU. King Idris al-sanusi himself was a founding father of the OAU together with Dr. Nkrumah, Tafawa Balewa and the rest. It is true that Gaddafi turned to the Arabs when he took power in 1969, but it should be understood that he was only 27 years old then and was inspired by President Abdul Nasser’s Pan Arabism than anything else and his opposition to the King led him to make the bloodless coup and eventually championing Arab causes instead of African causes which the King had pursued. It can be argued that most North African leaders at the time were playing the same kind of game. After a futile attempt to pull the Arabs together he turned his sights to the ‘lower 48’ again to see if he can pull them together. In 1999, he proposed the AU because the OAU had become obsolete and that led to its formation in 2002. For close to 30 years Gaddafi has been involved in the OAU/AU but has never seriously pursued the leadership or given that opportunity until now. The man should be given credit for at least trying to find a way to pull communities together. I think he should be given credit for making African unity the central focus of his foreign policy and in the latest AU summit it is testament that he is the only North African leader that showed up. President Obama said “leaders will be judged by what they build (pull together) and not what they destroy (tear apart)” and in this regard I think he should be acknowledged.

There are many arguments against him. Some claim he is too ‘erratic’ to be given any leadership role. Some also claim he is too dangerous because he has supported some militants in Africa and contributed to some of the many wars on the continent. Others also fear his relationship with the ‘West’ is a bad omen for Africa if he is seen as the leader of Africans. A minority of people fear he is just out to spread Islam on the African continent. And yet others are hell-bent to prevent him from becoming the ‘President’ of Africa which they claim to be the reason he is so much involved in this. He has been accused of being a dictator, and I am sure he is, but the Libyan people know better. I am not in a position to refute any of these accusations since I can simply not know what is in Gaddafi’s head, but it just seem to me that they said the same about Kwame Nkrumah and his band of compatriots who were championing the same cause in times past. Regardless of what the other African leaders think, or what the 'West' wants us to believe of him; he is the boldest leader is Africa today. He single-handedly negotiated his way out with his adversaries knowing the realities of today and what is good for his people, and saw American and European leaders rushing to Libya to make up. He has successfully negotiated with Libya's colonial masters to compensate the country for some of their wrong doings in the colonial era. $5bn is not a whole lot compared to the atrocities that were committed, but it is better than none. At the same time he has found a way to turn over the day to day running of his country to a Prime Minister albeit still holding a lot of power as the leader of the revolution. It is a well know fact that he has successfully harnessed the oil resource of his country to the benefit of the people (there is still more work to be done in this direction though). Remember Libya is only the third largest producer of oil in Africa (think Nigeria and Gabon). So you see Gaddafi has earned the right to be the leader of Africans. There is no doubt he will face very strong opposition, but so did Nkrumah and Nyerere. At least he has now with his selection tried to make the AU commission more relevant than it used to be. There was a rare debate about the way forward for the first time and he admitted he lost the debate, but it was a good first step. In three months they will meet again to vote on renaming the AU commission to the AU authority so that the body can set the direction for the union instead of being a talk shop of leaders. I think Mr. Gaddafi has earned the respect and the right to represent the AU and the African people at this present time.