In what may be his last chance to realize his ambition to become the first leader of a United States of Africa, Libya’s vainglorious dictator Muammar Gaddafi had himself declared “the King of Kings of Africa” by traditional African leaders in Tripoli earlier this month.
For the third year in a row, hundreds of African traditional rulers accepted Libyan funds to travel to Tripoli, Libya’s capital, to attend a Gaddafi-financed initiative called the “Forum of the Kings, Sultans, Princes, Sheiks and Mayors of Africa” that ran from September 7-9. Gaddafi sees the conferences as a way to keep his ambition alive of becoming Africa’s first leader after his attempt to renew his one-year chairmanship of the African Union (AU) was thwarted last February.
During his term as AU chairman, the Libyan colonel had advanced his agenda for a “quick shift” to a united Africa. But Gaddafi was rejected by the 53-member AU when he wanted a second 12-month stint, a rejection that earned his reproaches.
“The leader of the Libyan Jamahiriya was essentially raving that he had parted with a tidy sum, trying to put the AU house in order, only to be kicked in the mouth by ungrateful recipients of his largesse,” wrote one African columnist.
Angered by his rejection and upset with the “gradualist” African states, especially South Africa and Nigeria, that were only “lukewarm” toward his hurried unification plan, the Libyan strongman turned towards Africa’s mostly unelected traditional leaders. Among these Africans, Gaddafi’s lavish spending this time produced the desired results in the form of a statute declaring him Africa’s “King of Kings.” The document, it was reported, was already drawn up before the delegates’ arrival, needing only their signatures.
“Most of our traditional leaders here are very poor and as such they are just agreeing with everything without objection,” a delegate from Zambia’s Tonga tribe told an African newspaper.
Most African government leaders, both traditional and elected, see nothing wrong with the United States of Africa concept, similar to the European Union (EU), but want to approach this eventuality at a slower pace. They also commend Gaddafi for taking up the proposed vision of early, post-colonial African leaders, like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, for a United States of Africa. Gadaffi had first started agitating for a united Africa, they noted, in the 1990s before it became “fashionable.”
Besides its unacceptable quick pace, African governments oppose Gaddafi’s plan because they harbor strong suspicions concerning the Libyan’s unlimited ambitions. The Tripoli conference’s statute confirmed the correctness of these reservations since it contains no time limit or provisions for a successor to his “King of Kings” position. Under the statute, it was noted, if Africa was to become a united country, Gaddafi would become its king and succession, like in other monarchies, would fall to one of his sons, creating a ruling dynasty.
“So the Gaddafi clan would, by virtue of the statue, be in control of the United States of Africa as its leaders,” wrote one African journalist.
The will of Africa’s peoples as to who should rule them would also be ignored in Gaddafi’s envisaged kingdom of Africa. At the Tripoli conference, the Libyan dictator stated that in a united Africa “there would be no elections because there are dozens of examples of people who have lost their lives across the continent because of election disputes.” Many more, he failed to mention, have also lost their lives because of African dictatorships like Libya’s.
Africans also question Gaddafi’s love of and commitment to Africa because of his past involvement in numerous armed conflicts around the continent that cost many African lives. Gaddafi had even sent thousands of troops to defend Uganda’s murderous dictator Idi Amin in 1979 when Ugandan exiles and Tanzanian troops invaded the suffering country to topple him.
Others oppose Gaddafi heading a united Africa because of his insults against Christianity. In Uganda, for example, a majority Christian country, Gaddafi called the bible “a fake” because it does not mention the Prophet Muhammad. Advancing one religion by denigrating another, Gaddafi has also denied the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“The gross Christian-phobia exhibited by the Libyan leader is a total disgrace to Pan-Africanism,” declared a Ugandan pastor about Gaddafi’s divisive behavior.
Gaddafi, a fervent jihadist, has also called this year for a division of Nigeria along sectarian lines. In 1997, the Libyan leader had flown to Nigeria with 1,000 troops purportedly to launch a jihad for just such a purpose. Such pro-Islamic pronouncements and actions have caused some Africans to believe that Gaddafi’s true motive in wanting to unite the continent under his rule is to increase “Arabia in Africa.”
Sub-Saharan governments also oppose Gaddafi’s unification plan because of the Libyan’s hypocritical racism toward black Africans, which some regard as a manifestation of Arab hatred for blacks in general. Thousands of poor black African migrants seeking work in Libya or looking to travel illegally to Europe have been deported from Libya back to their native countries while hundreds more were put in Libyan prisons, experiencing brutal treatment from Gaddafi’s officials.
“We were lucky to be alive,” said one Nigerian deportee last year. “We were beaten, treated like slaves, but thank god we were not summarily executed. Many Nigerians have been killed and as we are talking, many will still be killed.”
Gaddafi’s racist attitude toward the black Africans he ostensibly wants to lead also manifested itself last month in Rome. He proposed that the EU pay him $6.3 billion to keep black Africans out of Europe, calling them “starving and ignorant.” Gaddafi also caused an uproar in Italy when he again promoted Islam while a guest in a foreign country by urging young Italian hostesses he hired for an event to convert to Islam.
Since the Libyan leader has settled the Lockerbie bombing affair, African governments realize he now has more time and resources to devote to the united Africa project. They are justified in fearing Gaddafi will use his oil wealth and the traditional African leaders attending his Tripoli conference to spread his influence in their countries and undermine their governments.
“It sounds as if they there are clandestine intentions to have us as puppets of this forum in our own countries,” said the Tonga delegate.
While it is highly unlikely Gaddafi will succeed in his plan to become Africa’s “King of Kings”, his exploitation of African poverty and political weaknesses for his own ends will only exacerbate tensions and contribute to Africa’s already large socio-political problems. By his latest antics in Tripoli, it is obvious Gaddafi has not developed into the statesman and peacemaker Africa needs, but rather has remained an obstacle to the continent’s stability and prosperity he has always been.