His reputation was beginning to mend, but critics of Col. Moammar Gadhafi are wondering if the Libyan leader is too erratic to head the African Union, after controversial statements made during his first address to the 53-nation group. Only a week into his appointment, the AU leader raised eyebrows last week in Tripoli for resurrecting his pet project of a “United States of Africa,” which would include Caribbean islands with African populations such as Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Gadhafi made other contentious statements, for example excusing the actions of Somali pirates as “self-defence,” and stating that multi-party democracies in Africa only lead to bloodshed. He went on to say that Libya was the best model for Africa because opposition parties are not allowed.
George Joffé, a University of Cambridge lecturer and Libyan politics expert, said the dictator’s vision of a single African military, currency and passport is unlikely. “The major states in Africa—being South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal and, to a lesser extent, Egypt—don’t want that to occur,” says Joffé. “They don’t want their sovereign rights interfered with by some super-state regional organization.” Besides, Joffé says, Gadhafi’s pan-African vision will fall by the wayside because his role as head of the AU is an “empty title.”
“He can make as many declarations as he likes but only if the states agree can he actually create any new institutions,” he says.
After years of sanctions and political isolation over Libya’s suspected terror links, Gadhafi edged back into the international community by surrendering suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, paying $2.7 billion in compensation to the victims’ relatives and turning away from weapons of mass destruction. And although nations like China, Italy and Spain have shown interest in investing in Libya (which has a growing oil industry), taking Gadhafi seriously as a statesman is another matter. A headline in Uganda’s Daily Monitor summed up the prevailing view: “Gadhafi election is last nail in Africa’s coffin.”