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Opinions of Saturday, 9 May 2009

Columnist: Acheampong, Osman

Gaddafi is Still The Right Man for the African Union

When I wrote an article making the case for the Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi, justifying why he had earned the right to be the AU chairman for one year, (, February 8, 2009) I received a barrage of criticisms from a wide range of Africans. It was interesting to note that most of the criticisms were not about the question of integration itself which I argued will be served better with Gaddafi at the helm, but it was mostly about the personality of Gaddafi himself, who many claim is not even deserving to be called African. Some of the many criticisms meted against Gaddafi may be justified, but my opinion is that for the many grave challenges that our continent faces, we need nothing less than a bold, courageous selfless and visionary leadership to steer the affairs of the continent.

Gaddafi may not be that leader but he has demonstrated in the last ten years, his ability to weather tough international challenges. He has successfully made the issue of African integration a central part of his foreign policy as he heads towards the next G8 summit in Italy, solely to argue for rich countries to help Africa, the same way America helped Europe when Europe was broke from the war. Domestically, he has proven to be able to harness the only natural resource of his nation to the benefit of ordinary Libyans. The truth of this last phrase is that there is virtually no Libyan found on the streets of London, Paris, Milan or in New York hustling like you will find many Nigerians, Ghanaians, Kenyans or even South Africans on the streets of these western cities. I also found in the responses that many Africans do not exactly understand the need for continental unity beyond being able to travel from one country to another, and their criticism of Gaddafi was solely centered on their inability or the inability of their family members to travel to Europe through Libya. In just three months as the AU Chairman, Mr. Gaddafi has visited the AU commission in Ethiopia twice. During his last visit in March, he emphasized the need for Africa to speak with one voice and “committed himself to completely devote his time for the Union by holding regular meetings and working very closely with the Commission” This is a break from the past on how previous AU Chairpersons have operated. In the just ended extra-ordinary section of the AU in Sirte, he once again emphasized the need for the AU to be a relevant institution that represent the aspiration of all African people, and outlined how the AU Commission should be strengthened with real authority to work on behalf of the people and not its current state, where it only represent an idea. He stressed on the need for the AU to have people who work every single day for the union to succeed instead of the current situation where representatives from individual countries meet every once a while to make decisions that are never used. Both President Kufour and President Kikwete mainly served as ceremonial heads and only occasionally served as elderly statesmen in conflict resolution. Ibrahima Kane is a Senegalese lawyer who works on AU issues for Open Society Institute. According to him, in an interview granted to the BBC, former President Obasanjo’s chairmanship at the AU was the best in recent times because he engaged with the commission. If Mr. Gaddafi continues the way he has started, I believe he will be able to build something he will be remembered for, before his term is over. In the end he will be judged by what he builds, and not what he destroys. History shows that for a cause as great as a union of all African nations to occur, it will require not only the desire of ambitious leaders, but also the support of ordinary citizens who must feel that any such effort will benefit them too.

This is why I think the AU has to find a way to involve ordinary citizens of all member states in the decision making process if they are serious about the integration effort, and if it has any chance of succeeding at all. But while we call on the AU and our leaders to do the right thing, we as ordinary citizens must also find our own way to be engaged and that is why I feel obliged to keep the conversation going by writing on the issue again. I do not want to engage in the debate of whether African unity is feasible or not because I have concluded after many interactions on the issue, and debates from both sides that it is highly feasible and only requires the right combination of leadership, political will on the part of individual nations, the belief in shared destiny of our common black people, and the acknowledgement that no one African country can be prosperous alone without us pooling together. I agree with the people who responded to me arguing that Gaddafi is part of the old guard that needs to give way to a new generation of African leaders, but in absence of such a leadership we need people like Gaddafi to at least keep the hopes and aspirations alive. The level of pan-Africanism that existed in the 60s and 70s seems to have faded away and given way to gross mistrust of the African Project as was laid down by our founding fathers. It is time for our generation to rethink our priorities and acknowledge that our individual successes are linked up with the progress of the entire African brethren. That is why many African intellectuals and business people are frustrated; their successes are in no way linked to the success of their own people. Rather than condemn Brother Gaddafi, we should encourage him to use his current clout to build a solid foundation for the future generation; one that will ensure a long lasting legacy for him and his generation.

As we all witnessed in the just ended G20 summit in London, South Africa was the only African country represented and even it, falls at the bottom of the list of G20 nations as it has the smallest economy behind Indonesia, Turkey and Argentina. The EU is represented as a member country in the G20 whilst countries like the UK, France, Italy and Germany, who are also members of the EU, are given extra seats at the table. This and other reasons are why it is imperative for Africans to put their act together and forge ahead some sort of political or economic integration, if it is to gain any respect at all in this world; and if it will be able to provide for is citizens, the kind of standard of living and dignity that many ordinary African citizens seem to be yearning for right now.

Let us keep the conversation going. Nobody will do it for us but us. No one country can do it alone. We have the resources, we need to pool together to build the human resources and we need to unite to define a common purpose for our common black people. We can make Africa proud again. Africa must unite!!!

Osman Acheampong. Join the discussion at,