Qadhafi’s turn from pan-Arab dream to African strategy

Published April 25th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Could it be that the Libyan-leader Muammar Qadhafi has abandoned the pan-Arab dream in favor of an Afro-centric strategy? It certainly would appear so. For quite some time already, he has been telling all who are prepared to pay attention that his country’s economic future lies in helping nurture the economies of Libya’s southern, non-Arab neighbors. 


Contrast to Qadhafi’s standoffish behavior at the recent Arab League summit in Amman, Jordan, was the magnanimous display he put on when hosting the Organization of African Unity summit in March. In Amman, he openly questioned the relevance of the Arab League, even suggesting that Israel receive membership if it acquiesces to Palestinian demands. Furthermore he selected not to share the same hotel as his fellow heads of state, preferring rather to pitch his tent in the grounds of a palace that belonged to the late King Hussein. 


Speaking to South African television, the Libyan leader suggested that calling for Arab unity might contradict the idea of African unity, because Arab unity could be seen as an effort to separate North Africa from rest of the continent. 


At the recent OAU summit, which took place in the Libyan coastal town of Sirte, Qadhafi pushed for and received the enthusiastic support of most sub-Saharan African leaders for an African political and economic union. Indeed, the idea remains only a few nations shy of formal ratification. 


The “United States of Africa,'' as Qadhafi has termed it, will include an African central bank, a euro-style African currency, a Strasbourg-style African parliament, a continental high court of justice. Still, as it is envisioned at present, the economic union is the more significant facet, as the parliament would not be able to make laws, and the court will not be able to enforce legislation. 


But that does not deter Qadhafi’s enthusiasm. He accepted it when the OAU secretary-general, Salim Ahmad Salim, read the resolution affirming Africa’s new union. “From here begins a new balance of power in the world,'' Qadhafi said to the cheering crowd afterwards. 


In statements to the press prior to the Sirte summit, the Libyan leader said that in order to revive the African Development Bank, a fund for African currencies would be created that could achieve an equal balance between African currencies, the European Union's euro and the Japanese yen. 


Qadhafi stated that the establishment of an African United States is the historic solution for the continent, since, as part of a collective economic block, the individual states would be able to talk from the position of strength that they could not individually. 


The adulation he received was not coincidental. According to AP, Qadhafi had paid membership arrears, owed to the OAU by at least 10 member states, so they could participate in his Sirte summit.  


The idea of an African Union was first suggested by Qadhafi at the 35th OAU Algiers summit in July 1999. The central initiative was to transform 26-year-old OAU into a more dynamic organization. Qadhafi proposed that the OAU, such as it had been since 1963, should be abolished and that a "Pan African congress" be established in its place.  


In August 1999, Qadhafi pushed through the Sirte declaration, which called for the establishment of the African Union; the acceleration of the process leading to the implementation of the Abuja treaty of 1991 and establishing the African Economic Community (AEC). The declaration also gave a mandate to President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to contact Africa's external creditors about the cancellation of the African debt. 


During the almost two years that followed, Qadhafi oversaw the legal process, by which the resolution that eventually was approved in Sirte, take shape. In so doing, he assumed the leadership role that he appeared to believe had been denied to him in the Arab League. Critics have said that one of his main purposes in pushing forward African Unity is his desire to be named the continent’s first president. 


In October, Qadhafi set off on a tour, which took him to Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, where he urged his Arab brethren to support the African union. The salvation of the Arab world, he stated, will be in its adhesion to the African Union, to form a big socio-economic space, including states endowed with extensive natural resources, starting with huge renewable quantities of fresh water.  


Qadhafi also urges Arab businessmen to "invest in Africa if we want to find a place for Arabs on the world map as it is currently evolving". He was also strongly critical of the European-led effort to create a Mediterranean Basin alliance, describing it as part of a conspiracy, which split the Arab nation into three continents. He similarly has thrust barbs at the Maghreb union and the GCC. 


Qadhafi’s popularity in Africa is in part a result of his readiness to put his money where his mouth is. The Sudan News Agency, SUNA , recently reported that Libya will build a $100,000 secondary school in Juba, southern Sudan. Laying the school's foundation stone, Mustafa Osman, the Sudanese foreign minister, stated: "By deciding to build the school, the Libyan leader is seeking to create a new generation of Sudanese that cherishes African unity.” — (Albawaba-MEBG)

© 2001 Mena Report (

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