Wednesday, March 18, 2009
By Charles Soeze
RECENTLY, Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi was elected as Chairman of the 53-nation African Union (AU) for one year. Gaddafi was elected by delegates at the AU Summit in Ethiopia and consequently replaced the Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete.
It would be recalled that the AU formerly known as Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed on May 25, 1963 at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I think and believe that Gaddafi's election was because of his new plans and previous assistance for the African countries.
In 1977, the then South African President, Nelson Mandela visited Libya and praised its leader, Col. Al-Gaddafi for his unceasing support during South Africa's struggle against apartheid. Often considered part of the Arab, Libya is in fact one of Africa's largest and wealthiest nations and for centuries, its people have cultivated relations both across North Africa and South of the Sahara.
It is on record that since coming to power in 1970, Gaddafi has provided both verbal and material support to a variety of African national movements as well as to governments ranging from Idi Amin's dictatorship in Uganda to Thomas Sankara's populist socialist state in Burkina Faso.
Also in 1997, Gaddafi initiated a plan for a Sahelian-Saharan economic treaty with at least nine African nations. However, many in the West view Libya's influence in Africa with concern, many poorer African nations have welcomed the oil-rich country's largesse being managed by a man of integrity whose administration has certainly displayed wisdom, maturity, tactics and concern for the welfare and development of Libyans. Libya, a large North Africa country is bordered by Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.
It is true to say that the AU is clearly different from the defunct OAU in view of its emphasis on sound African economy, anchored on democracy. This is a good vision because of the poverty and misery decades of 'khaki boys' rule have brought upon Africans. As a result of this, there is need for the AU to insist on democratic process and the need for Africans to imbibe openness, fairness, transparency, and avoid 'god-fatherism and god-motherism' as well as corruption.
However, democracy can only make meaning and be sustained if it brings good living standards beginning from the grassroots. The way to success remains regional economic integration, as stated in the Lagos State Plan of Action and was also stated in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
It is no exaggeration to say that Africa has many resources, human and natural but has continued to observe economic hardship and or economic 'cuyoyo' according to Dr. Tai Solarin (of blessed memory), former headmaster of Mayflower School, Ikenne.
The AU works to resolve conflicts between nations and to coordinate political, economic, cultural, scientific, medical, and defense policies. Since its formation, the AU has helped to strengthen ties between African nations and settle disputes.
It is on record that it also faced many problems that have undermined its ability and agility to achieve its goals. However, in the 1990s, new leadership helped the AU gain increased influence.
It is abundantly clear that the AU has been troubled by disputes among its member nations. In 1975, the organization's members became divided over which side to support in the Angolan Civil War. In this conflict, rival factions fought for control of Angola, which had won independence from Portugal in 1974.
One faction, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (officially known as Movemento Popular de Libertacao de Angola, Partido de trabalho, or MPLA), was backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union.
The spirit of AU continued during series of wars, including the 1977 and 1978 invasions of the Katanga Province of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) by Angolan backed forces; Somalia's war with Ethiopia in 1978, and the conflicts between Uganda and Tanzania in 1978 and 1979. In 1981, the same nations that had supported the MPLA government in Angola also recognized the Western Sahara as an independent state and admitted it into the OAU.
Morocco and other states that had supported the UNITA/FNLA side of the Angolan conflict did not approve of this move, and Morocco temporarily withdrew from the AU. The AU's strength was sapped further by an accelerating economic decline in Africa during the 1970s and 1980s.
In spite of its problem, the AU has scored a number of successes over the years. It mediated a border space between Algeria and Morocco in 1964 and 1965. It also mediated in the border conflicts of Somalia with Ethiopia and Kenya from 1968 to 1970. In 1963, the AU formed the Africa Liberation Committee to channel financial support to movements trying to defeat Portuguese Colonial rule in Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique. Those movements were victorious in 1974.
It also supported movements against white minority rule in South Africa, Zambia, and Namibia. South Africa was excluded from OAU membership until 1994, when white minority rule and apartheid (the policy of racial segregation) ended. In 1986, the AU established the Africa Commission on Human and People's rights to monitor human rights practices in member-nations.
In the 1990s, the AU experienced a revival partly due to the election of Salim Ahmed Salim of Tanzania as its Secretary General in 1989 for a four-year term. Salim was one of Africa's most respected statesmen and brought increased authority and prestige to the post. He was re-elected in 1993 and 1997.
Under Salim's leadership, the AU established a new mechanism for conflict resolution and a peace fund in 1992 to deal with a growing number of conflicts. In 1993 the AU sent peacekeepers to Liberia to support other peacekeeping missions trying to end a Civil War.
In 1994, African nations ratified an AU initiative to establish an African Economic Community that would promote trade and other African nations and remove tariffs and other restrictions that hamper commercial exchange.
The AU added another feather to its cap when South Africa became a member in 1994. South Africa has been a major force for peace, democracy and economic development in Africa since 1994, when apartheid ended in that country.
With Salim's leadership and South Africa's influence, the AU has the chance to become a stronger and more effective organization in the future. With all the problems and successes, being AU Chairman is a big responsibility.
It is my view that Col. Al-Gaddafi would be able to handle the AU with a much determined vigour and high administrative capability just like the way he has been handling Libya, to move the AU better than it was.
Finally, I have no doubt in my mind that al-Gaddafi would perform competently well based on what he wants now, single African military force, single currency and a single passport for Africans to move within the continent. Gaddafi has also promised to end the crisis in Darfur in his role as AU Chairman.
Furthermore, it is on record that he has been involved in mediating the conflict in Sudan's Darfur with little success. Statistics revealed that since 2008, as many as 300,000 people have died in Darfur and 27 million has fled their homes, including into neighbouring Chad.
The "King of Kings" as he was bestowed on last August at a meeting of more than 200 African kings and traditional rulers, I say a big congratulations on your new assignment.