Tunisia-led pro-Libya proposal for AU chair may split Africa

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The rotating regional chairmanship of the 53-nation African Union (AU) has been hit by a dilemma of unparalleled complexity as Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s tenure draws to an end. Libya’s northern ally, Tunisia, has begun a propaganda to retain Gaddafi as AU leader. The move, widely seen as a threat to AU democratic principles, could also foster divisions among member states. But the AU needs money, and Libya can provide it.

A diplomatic row may have broken out at the African Union over Tunisia’s attempt to present a proposal before a heads of state summit next week suggesting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi remains at the helm of affairs at the AU, as the Libyan leader “needs more time” to push his United States of Africa project. Colonel Gaddafi’s main manifesto effort is directed towards a single African military, currency and passport.

The proposal could foment discord between states sympathetic to Libya and southern Africa. Mozambique’s deputy foreign minister has insisted that it was his region’s turn to lead the Union while indicating that the rules would be followed. In accordance with the rules, southern Africa has picked Malawi as its candidate.

But given the fact that Libya represents a continental financial powerhouse and bears a significant part of the financial burden of contributions to the AU, this proposal could, in fact, derail the very claims that back Tunisia’s proposal and end up with a divided continent. In dire need to provide an extra $1.3bn to run its programmes on the one hand, and its own democratic standards on the other, the AU could be caught between a rock and a hard place.

It comes as no surprise that the uneasy situation created by the Tunisia-led propaganda has angered some diplomats, and although it is believed that members would vouch for the southern African presidency, future divisions on the subject matter are to be neglected. In fact, a Malawian diplomat indicated that the country would not give up its candidature without a fight. “Personally I am confident that the candidature of Malawi is going to be endorsed by the whole African Union,” Mozambique’s deputy foreign minister, Eduardo Koloma was quoted by reporters.

And as the issue becomes the talking point in the corridors of power, on diplomatic caucuses and political forums, Libya’s foreign minister in Addis Ababa has responded to Tunisia’s propaganda for Gaddafi to continue as AU’s chair. According to him, Libya’s vision for a “United States of Africa” needed more time and energy to be completed.

But even with Libya’s financial clout, and Gaddafi’s seemingly progressive plans for Africa, it is important that the AU’s determination to show deference for smaller member countries be respected. Established with a view to accelerate the process of integration in the continent to enable it play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems, compounded as they are by certain negative aspects of globalization, the African Union continues to play an essential role in the institutional evolution of the continent.

African countries, in their quest for unity, economic and social development under the banner of the Oraganisation of African Unity (OAU), have taken various initiatives and made substantial progress in many areas which paved the way for the establishment of the AU, and derailing from its founding principles could see the union scorned and weakened by the very bête noire it fights.

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