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African Unity And the Disturbing Rumbles From Libya

Analysis by Paul Ejime, Panafrican News Agency, 13 October 2000

Dakar, Senegal’Since he came to power 31 years ago in the 1969 Socialist Revolution, Libyan leader Col. Moammar Kadhafi has endeared himself to admirers as a Pan-Africanist.

He has not only given vent to this profile in words but also in deeds, not least his recent push for an African Union.

Kadhafi has never made any secret of his abhorrence of the imperialist West, which accuses Libya of exporting terrorism.

But even in Africa, critics are uncomfortable with the Libyan leader’s cosy relations with some so-called revolutionary elements.

They point to the fact that people like former warlord now Liberian president Charles Taylor and Corporal Foday Sankoh, ousted leader of Sierra Leone’s rebel Revolutionary United Front, had their military training in Libya before launching their version of revolution against their own countries.

Political observers have also noted that Kadhafi’s African solidarity has never diminished his affinity to his Arab neighbours, evidenced by his strong parallel commitment to the Maghreb Union.

Nonetheless, Kadhafi has remained steadfast in his crusade for a united Africa that would be able to fend off the machinations of the neo-colonialists and their allies hell bent on seeing the continent literally annihilated.

The Addis Ababa-based continental body, the OAU in July endorsed the ambitious African Union Treaty midwived early this year at a special summit in the Libyan city of Sirte, where Kadhafi, true to his generosity, announced the bankrolling of millions of dollars in arrears of contribution owed the OAU by a number of African countries.

In many ways, Sub-Saharan Africa has also reciprocated Kadhafi’s fraternal gestures, rising up to his defence against frequent attacks from the West, particularly the US.

A typical case was over the 1988 bombing of the American PANAM flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed all 270 people on board.

Two Libyan nationals were accused of involvement in the violence, which earned the north African country wide-ranging US- sponsored UN sanctions from 1992.

After an aborted OAU summit in 1992, the continental organisation never relented until the sanctions were finally lifted last year.

Against all odds, the OAU in 1997, for the first time held its Council of Ministers meeting outside Addis Ababa in Tripoli, in an awkward arrangement that made African ministers and other delegates to travel some 300km from the Tunisian border town of Djerba to Tripoli because of the flight ban on Libya.

Like many other OAU fora, that meeting, which was a deliberate collective violation of the UN sanctions, was another opportunity for a strong African campaign against the embargo, which was finally lifted after Tripoli agreed to hand over the suspects for trial in a third country.

It is against this background that observers view with concern recent skirmishes between Sub-Saharan Africans, mainly from West Africa and their Libyan hosts.

Historically, Libya has been home to hundreds of thousands of citizens from countries like Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Ghana and Sudan, to name a few.

Most of these immigrants, whose numbers have been swelled by harsh political or economic situations at home, have settled in Libya for decades engaged in mainly menial jobs.

Some even use North Africa countries as springboard to illegal emigration to Europe.

But three weeks ago, for reasons linked to disagreements between Nigerian suspected drug dealers and Libyans, an avoidable violence erupted resulting in casualties and the repatriation or deportation of thousands of Sub-Saharan Africans.

Apart from the death toll which some Nigerian returnees put at more than 500, though Libyan authorities confirmed only five dead, the tales of ill-treatment by these returnees, be they from Lagos, Accra and Khartoum, is appalling to Pan-Africanists, especially coming from a country championing African unity.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has expressed concern at the entire affair, which has prompted several high-profile emergency visits including that by Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings to Libya to ascertain the true situation.

In his first public statement on the crisis, Kadhafi not only condemned the incident but reaffirmed his country’s commitment to African unity. He blamed the crisis on outsiders bent on dividing Africa.

But despite the reassuring words, observers are of the view that a thorough investigation is required to get to the root of the problem. This is not only to stem the anti-Libyan sentiment now spreading in countries whose nationals are affected, but most importantly, to prevent a repeat performance.

There could be a much more fundamental local underpinning to the crisis or an external connection, which Kadhafi alluded to.

Oil-rich Libya with some five million people is largely a closed religious society, which must not compromise its territorial integrity for the sake of solidarity.

At the same time, its nationals should not be seen to take undue advantage of foreigners, particularly fellow-Africans, since this would not only undermine Kadhafi’s life-long dream of a United State of Africa.

This would be a great disappointment to Pan-Africanists like Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade.

I think that if I died without living in a united Africa, I would regret it. . . Wade told journalists in Tripoli in July.