Libyan leader Moamar Kadhafi will greet dozens of his African counterparts in Sirte Thursday, March1, to further his campaign for an African union, an initiative that is slowly but unconvincingly gathering steam.
It was in Sirte, Kadhafi's home region on Libya's Mediterranean coast, that he first proposed the idea of a "United States of Africa" in September 1999.
Hosting a gala reception for more than 40 heads of state and government, he urged them to replace the Organization of African Union (OAU) with a grander pan-African entity, which he appeared keen to head himself.
Kadhafi won only a lukewarm response, his guests rejecting his proposal to name the grouping the United States of Africa, preferring "African Union", but the meeting produced a Sirte Declaration setting out an entity with a parliament, central bank and court and requiring ratification by two-thirds of the OAU's 53 member states.
So far, 44 member states have signed on, of which 21 have ratified. Another 15 states must ratify to complete the two-thirds needed for the African Union to take effect, and it would be declared a reality within 30 days.
At the OAU's ordinary summit last July in Togo, Kadhafi, after arriving at the head of an impressive caravan of 200 vehicles, relaunched his initiative, but the matter was deferred to the upcoming summit.
Kadhafi's African aspirations — which have given pause to many countries — have clearly had difficulty bearing fruit.
While several key players on the continent including regional powerhouses Nigeria and South Africa have been wary, Kadhafi's most willing takers have been countries — small, poor or both — that benefit from Libyan financial aid, used for example to help pay their OAU dues.
Established regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern African Development Community are wary of interference in their regional affairs.
Africa's Arab countries tend to be even less enthusiastic. "Egypt considers itself the sole gateway to Africa, Algeria as the continent's unifier, and Morocco boycotts the OAU (over its recognition of Western Sahara)," a delegate said Wednesday.
The Algerian and Tunisian presidents are expected to attend the two-day meeting, while the presence of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is uncertain. The countries that have ratified include Gambia, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali and Niger.
South Africa — whose President Thabo Mbeki is expected at Thursday and Friday's summit — now seems prepared to accept the idea if it can host the African Union's parliament.
Diplomats at OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa said Pretoria would in fact be awarded the parliament venue. Other planned institutions include an African Central Bank, an African Monetary Fund and an African Court of Justice.
Meanwhile, prospects for a smooth meeting, let alone for the successful launch of an African Union, appeared hazy to at least one delegate. “Look at the inept organization of this summit," he fumed. "How can you expect Libya to create an effective African Union?"
Like most delegates who arrived late Tuesday, many after long journeys, he was passed from one hotel to another in Sirte, where organizers appeared completely overwhelmed by an event that has been planned for months. — (AFP, Sirte)
by Jean-Pierre Campagne
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )