Friday, February 13, 2009



Thursday, 12th February, 2009

An East African perspective
By Jerry Okungu

THIS article is not meant to legitimise Col Muammar Gadaffi’s African Union (AU) chairmanship. That was already taken care of by consensus at the last AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia early this month.

Moreover, as an African head of state whose regime is recognised in Africa as well as at the United Nations, Gadaffi has every right to occupy the rotational AU chair from time to time just like any other African head of state; his style of leadership notwithstanding. After all, worse dictators such as Idi Amin of Uganda and Mobutu Sese Seko of the DR Congo once became Chairs of the OAU—the precursor to the present AU.

Gadaffi’s chairmanship of the AU has elicited mixed reactions from Africans and non- Africans across the globe. Whereas some have praised it as long overdue; others have condemned it as a step backwards in Africa’s democratisation process. Their argument is pretty plausible, considering that since Gadaffi overthrew Libya’s feudal system 40 years ago, he has ruled that country with an iron fist.

He abolished feudalism as well as ensured there was no room for multi-party democracy. Looked at another way, Gadaffi is a clear example of a leader for life; the more reason he has never seen anything wrong with African leaders who would love to stay in power forever. Those who support his new role in the continent see in him a forceful and decisive leader that can shake up the AU into asserting the African agenda on the global arena. His aggressive manner will definitely make other world leaders sit up and listen to the African agenda more attentively even if they don’t do anything about them.

But even more plausible is the fact that Gadaffi has brought his economic independence to the AU Chair. He will probably be among the very few heads of state in Africa that do not depend on aid from foreign governments. He has used oil revenue to gain economic independence for his country. We cannot say the same for equally oil-rich countries such as Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and Cameroun.
It is this lack of dependence on powerful nations belonging to the G8 Club that will force them to listen to Muammar Gadaffi. It cannot be denied that Gadaffi is a strong and charismatic character that will not hesitate to show off his wealth and influence if need be.

It is for this reason that he has been able to enlist the support of 22 African heads of state and a handful of traditional kings to help him push his agenda. It can also not be wished away that Gadaffi dreams of being the first Pan-African head of state. In this dream, he is not alone and neither is he the first African leader to harbour such grandiose ambitions. Kwame Nkrumah and Abdel Nasser beat him to it nearly half a century ago.

Why does Gadaffi think the unification of the continent is a good idea?
Without delving into his personal agenda, the African Peer Review Mechanism and the New Partnership for African Development are very clear in their stated objectives in what they have defined as ailing African continent.

Through these two initiatives, African heads of state have long recognised that the continent is underdeveloped due to poor infrastructure connectivity. Travel in the continent is a nightmare even for Africans in the continent. Africa needs well maintained roads, rail lines, air transport and telecommunications systems that work.

Africa needs to remove movement and communication barriers to catalyse trade and cultural integration. There is need for a common language, a common currency and a common passport to ease travel and business in the continent if Africa has to catch up with the developed world. It needs its own expanded domestic market so that it can industrialise.

On the APRM front, heads of state have recognised the need to overhaul our democratic and governance institutions in order to be in keeping with accepted international practices. Issues like the rule of law, democratic elections, respect for human rights and rights to basic human needs must be promoted vigorously in the continent. These are noble ideals that Africa cannot attain in its present fractured state. If Africa does not go the Gadaffi way; 50 years down the line, our children and grand- children will still be talking the same politics.

Maybe Africa right now needs a mad man to push its agenda forward. That mad man is Muammar Gadaffi!