Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s drive to create a “union government” for all of Africa has instead heightened divisions on the continent, forcing an extension of a summit yesterday to resolve the spat.
The African Union (AU) elected Qaddafi to lead the bloc on Monday, despite deep reservations among many members over his call for a “United States of Africa.”
But as the 53 members were meant to wind up their three-day summit, the dispute widened as they debated a report on how to reform the continental body.
Qaddafi walked out of the talks without saying anything, and moments later the other leaders left around 3am with an agreement to resume debate later in the day.
“He understood that he lost, that why he left like that,” one African diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Publicly, African leaders tried to put a positive spin on it.
“He didn’t walk out, he just got tired,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said.
“We had very important things to discuss. A very rich debate. We will take it up again tomorrow morning to close,” Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said.
The summit had already agreed to expand the mandate of the AU Commission and change its name to the AU Authority, but the details of that change appear to be the focus of the dispute.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said in a joint interview with Agence France-Presse and his nation’s SABC television that proposals for strengthening the AU would be considered only over the next three months.
“The aim is to strengthen and expand a bit on the functions and responsibilities of the Authority,” he said.
“The executive council tabled proposals and actually requested to be accorded three months within which to look at the exact nitty-gritty of this AU Authority,” he said.
“There is an acceptance that the end goal of the founding fathers of the OAU [Organization of African Unity] and the AU was that Africa would be united. A day will be arrived at where there will be a single authority in charge of Africa,” Motlanthe said.
“There is also a recognition that the route will be a long route,” he said.
During the summit, the tensions with Qaddafi were palpable. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni proposed turning the AU leadership into a troika, which would mitigate Qaddafi’s influence in a role that already has little real power.
“Africans are polite, but deserve respect,” Museveni told him, according to one participant in the talks.
He then got up, whispered something in Qaddafi’s ear and tapped him on the shoulder as he left. A few minutes later, Qaddafi left, the participant said.
Qaddafi has long looked at the AU as a way to boost Africa’s international profile, as well as increase his own standing.
However, leaders like Museveni are reluctant to see Qaddafi become the face of Africa in international arena.