31 January 2010
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has stepped down as chairman of the 53-nation African Union, but not without firing a few verbal broadsides at the organization. Mr. Gadhafi chastised his fellow heads of state for refusing to go along with his plan for a "United States of Africa."
All was calm on the surface. Africa's heads of state went into a conference room and emerged 20 minutes later to say Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutarika would assume the rotating African Union chairmanship for the coming year. But that announcement hid a furious behind-the-scenes battle for control of the continental organization that witnesses say nearly broke out in fisticuffs the night before.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had hoped to stay on for a second term to see through his plan for greater political and economic unification. But after handing over the chairmanship to the Malawian leader, Mr. Gadhafi let loose his wrath in a farewell speech, criticizing his colleagues for a lack of political will. His remarks in Arabic were translated by an AU interpreter.
"I doubt we will be able to shoulder the responsibilities before us," he said. "I doubt we can achieve something concrete in the future, because frankly speaking my experience of the African Union, the political elites of our continent lack political awareness and hence the political determination."
Mr. Gadhafi called himself 'a soldier of Africa', and said he would continue his crusade to integrate the continent. He blasted the African Union for wasting time with long-winded speeches, resolutions and declarations while ignoring the changing world around it.
"African political elites are not interested in these changes that are occurring in the map of the world," he added. "The world is turning into seven or 10 countries and we are not even aware of that. We have the European Union that is becoming one singe country and it is done very seriously."
Mr. Gadhafi said if he had known how little power the AU chairman has, he would have refused to take the position.
The newly installed chairman, Malawi's President Mutarika, suggested he agreed with at least some of his predecessor's criticisms.
"The way forward is for the AU Assembly to recognize that Africa is not a poor continent, but the people of Africa are poor," he noted. "Let us reflect that Europe and the much of the Western world developed using wood, meat and fish from Africa, but Europe and the Western world did not develop through resolutions, and declarations. They took action - concrete action. So I appeal to you for action, action and more action."
The opening summit session also heard pleas for urgent attention to the continent's most pressing security challenges, Sudan and Somalia.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who attended a mini-summit on Sudan, said time is of the essence, with elections just three months away, and referenda to determine the future shape of Sudan in just under a year.
"First, we will seek to forge consensus among member states on the way forward," he said. "Second, we will continue to strengthen the U.N. presence on the ground. Third, we will promote discussions on key post-referendum issues. Fourth, we will build the capacity of South Sudanese institutions."
Mr. Ban also called for greater international support for Somalia's fragile transitional government, but indicated there are no immediate plans to establish a U.N. peacekeeping force in the failed Horn of Africa state.
African countries are instead being asked to contribute more troops to the AU force known as AMISOM. The force consists of 5,200 Burundian and Ugandan troops backing a beleaguered Somali army that has been unable to drive out well-financed insurgents believed to have close ties to al-Qaida.