Libya, Qadhafi, and the African Union

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Libya, Qadhafi, and the African Union

The Conflict

Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi, after having been isolated as a leader of an alleged terrorist nation for years, returned to the international arena as a spokesperson strongly pushing the unity of African nations. He deftly brought about the unanimous decision of the African states to form the new African Union in 2001. With Africa's current political configuration as 53 distinct nation-states with diverse markets, civil wars, and individual health measures, there is less hope for progress than there would be as a strong union of nations. There are many obstacles to federation, not least of which are suspicions about Qadhafi himself.


  • Many suspect Qadhafi, who was not long ago the primary advocate of Arab unity, of attempting to amass power for himself and for anti-Western, anti-Israeli causes.
  • Qadhafi's vision of a United States of Africa entails changing the concepts of national identity within the African nations.
  • Some people in the nation of Libya rose up against their leader's mission to unite Africa because of its high cost to the Libyan people. The country is accustomed to seeing itself as Arab before African.


• Libya and Qadhafi receive a disproportionate amount of international attention due in part to the vast oil resources of the country. Qadhafi is using Libya's oil income to help finance the African Union campaign, drawing many poor African nations to support Qadhafi and tipping the normal scales that balance power.


• Before the arrival at the end of the 1990s of more than one million African immigrants from many countries, Libya's population was very homogeneous, with 97 percent of the population Sunni Muslims of Berber and Arab descent. Introducing new groups within the country resulted in violence. Eliminating borders between the nation-states of Africa, many of which have strong cultural and ethnic identities, could require careful attention to the possibilities of ethnic conflict.

In 1999 Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi (also Gaddafi, Kadhafi, Gadafy, and various other spellings) called a meeting of all African heads of state to discuss the creation of a new union of African states. The new union Qadhafi proposed was to be far stronger than the existing Organization of African Unity (OAU), which had been formed by 32 independent African states in 1963 in order to promote unity and to defend the sovereignty of its members and eradicate all forms of colonialism on the continent. Following several meetings and a two-day summit of 40 African heads of state in Sirte, Libya, in March 2001, Libya announced the creation of a new African Union, to be roughly modeled on the European Union.

Upon the announcement of the new pact, established by a unanimous decision of all 53 member states of the OAU, Colonel Qadhafi flashed a victory sign. "Africans will no longer accept to be treated like animals and Africa has the right to take the place that is hers in the world," Qadhafi said, as quoted by Paul Ejime in a March 2, 2001, Panafrican News Agency article. Qadhafi declared the formation of the African Union a major turning point in modern African history. "Today marks the crowning of the dozens of steps taken by Africa on the road to freedom and unity" Qadhafi pronounced, as quoted in an article in the Middle East News Online. For Qadhafi too, the creation of African Union was a turning point in his long struggle to bring about worldwide changes as a legitimate statesman.

The African Union that was voted in will actually be a watered-down version of Qadhafi's original proposal to create a federated super-nation similar to the United States of America, with a president and a congress. The new African Union will have a Union executive council, a parliament, court of justice, a monetary union, a peacekeeping force, and financial institutions, including a common currency, central bank, and investment bank. The Union should be a forum to foster greater cooperation among African nations, end wars, and promote prosperity. Member nations hope eventually to form a single political body that can compete among the global powers on an economic, political, and military basis.

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan has given the African Union his blessing, and the new Union has brought a ray of hope and promise to some African nations. But there are those in Africa and in the West who have grave concerns, and some confusion, about Qadhafi's motivations. The controversial Libyan leader is thought to have sponsored state-organized and financed terrorism aimed at select Western targets in the past; many fear that he is building up to create worse havoc in the future.

Qadhafi rules 5,445,500 Libyans. His country by itself has too small a population to pose a substantial military threat to the West. But under Qadhafi, Libya has played an international role more appropriate to a far larger nation. The new African Union would give Qadhafi access to some 680,000,000 Africans—a tremendous power base.

No less concerned are the people of Libya, who experienced a tremendous shift in their nation's population when their leader shifted his orientation from Arab countries in the Middle East to the federation of African nations.

Arab or African?

Qadhafi adopted the mantel of "Mr. Africa" in the late 1990s, after a long career as a spokesperson for the Middle East. When asked by a Reuters reporter if he was detached from the Arab world, Qadhafi replied, "Libya is a very dynamic country. Libya's territory is African. The Arab countries can catch up with the African countries."

Despite their leader's words, Libyans, as North Africans, are probably more accustomed to thinking of themselves as Arab than as African. For many the idea of being part of Africa and the African Union is a novel concept. When Libya's economy plunged in 2000, there were public riots and terrible violence against the African immigrants in Libya, ending with the deportation of hundreds of thousands back to their native lands. It will take time for Libyans to accept Africans from countries such as Nigeria, Chad, and Ghana as "brothers" in any meaningful sense. Yet, with Libyan television broadcasting local divas singing "Africa, our father, our mother" (according to the March 12, 2001, Time), perhaps the idea of being African will eventually take hold among Libyans.

Suspicions about Qadhafi and Libya

Qadhafi had been politically isolated from the international world before he stepped into his new role of statesman for Africa. The West has accused Qadhafi of being involved in acts of terrorism for many years. Libya is one of seven governments that the United States designated as state sponsors of international terrorism. Qadhafi has gone to great lengths to change the image. He has notably been a major advocate of peace in the war-torn nations of Africa. He has repeatedly condemned terrorism, and on September 11, 2001, he condemned the "terrible" terrorist attacks on the United States and offered to send aid to the American people. The West, however, has not been quick to forget the past.

The government of Libya was suspected of involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing more than 200 innocent civilians. Qadhafi's minions were also suspected of bombing a disco in Germany and killing two U.S. soldiers stationed there, and they have been associated with a number of other terrorist attacks that have targeted Westerners. It was widely reported that Qadhafi offered a US$5 million payout to anyone who could provide him with fissionable material and the knowhow to make an atomic weapon of mass destruction, according to Patrick Lyons in his article "Gaddafi's African Union Is a Fraud, Part II: Would You Trust This Man with Nukes?"

Libya has huge internal sources of uranium, which Russia used under a 1985 agreement to build a nuclear power plant in Qadhafi's home-town of Sirte. This plant currently produces 880 megawatts of electricity. Some are concerned that it could also create bomb-grade material. A German-built pharmaceutical complex near Rabta was suspected of producing mustard gas; it was destroyed in a "mysterious" fire. Suspicion has also been focused on an enormous underground tunnel being built through Tarhuna Mountain, south of Tripoli, as a possible chemical weapons plant, especially since Libya has refused to sign the 1993 UN Convention outlawing chemical weapons and has also refused to open Tarhuna to international inspection.

On November 24, 1999, British authorities seized a consignment of Scud missile parts at Gatwick Airport near London that was bound for Libya. The boxes were marked "automotive spare parts," but they contained parts of North Korean Nodong-1 advanced ballistic missiles. These missiles have a range of 600 miles (966 kilometers), which would allow Libya to target sites in Athens and Rome. Continuing signs that Qadhafi is seeking to build or acquire weapons of mass destruction have led some analysts to question whether he is the right person to lead a new African Union.

African leaders have their own complaints, also based on the Libyan leader's past. Qadhafi's support of the brutal and inhumane Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin Dada in the early 1970s made Tanzania suspicious of Qadhafi's motives. A senior Nigerian official quoted by MacLeod complained that Qadhafi, "wants to be the driver, with all of us (African nations) in the back seat." In Kenya John Githongo, also recorded by MacLeod, noted that Qadhafi "has backed some nasty little regimes across Africa, so there is suspicion of his motives."

Despite this, other leaders of great stature, such as former South African president Nelson Mandela, support Qadhafi. During its many years of struggle against apartheid the African National Congress Party (ANC) received support from Qadhafi, along with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and one or two other leaders who supported the South African fighters without hesitation or reservation. Qadhafi is also sought out for the great oil revenues his country has enjoyed in recent decades. Poor African nations, such as Gambia, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, and Niger, which are saddled with debt, poverty, and disease, hope to gain financial help from Libya. The allure of Libya's money is obvious, and the poorest African nations were the first to ratify the new union to curry favor with Qadhafi.

Incidents of anti-African violence in Qadhafi's own country, Libya, demonstrate that it could be a long time before the people of the nations of Africa are prepared to take on a Pan-African identity. Many Africans do not know a lot about the people of their own country, much less their continent-mates. For ordinary Africans, joining a continent-wide union will require re-education as well as a tremendous leap of imagination and faith.

Historical Background

W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) coined the term "Pan-Africanism" to capture the desire to unite all people of African descent worldwide. He believed that all nations on the continent of Africa should unite and form a United States of Africa. In 1957 Kwame Nkrumah (1909-72), a student of Dr. DuBois and a Pan-Africanist, became the first head of an independent black African nation, Ghana. In 1963 Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-70), president of Egypt, and Nkrumah called a meeting of all African leaders in Cairo, Egypt. Nkrumah wrote a book entitled Africa Must Unite to sell these leaders on the need for a United States of Africa that would unite all African nations into a single super-state headed by one ruler.

There was opposition to an African union. Julius Nyerere (1922-96), president of Tanzania and a highly respected statesman, and other African leaders argued that Africa needed first to form viable regional unions that could later be united into a United States of Africa. Because of the strong opposition, the Organization of African States that eventually emerged from the Cairo meetings was a much weaker institution than its creators had advocated. Nyerere successfully later regretted his opposition to the union, saying "We lost a lot of time."

Member states of the OAU pledged to consider the inherited boundaries of the colonial states sacred. Thus, today Africa remains divided into 53 nation-states and the disputed Western Sahara territory.

Qadhafi was an unlikely champion of Pan-Africanism. He had long been associated with the Middle East and with the drive for Arab unity, as well as with alleged terrorist acts. In recent years, however, he set out to revive the ideal of a unified African federation with determination. That Libya should have become such a leader in the African Union—or for that matter, that Africa is even entering into a union at this point at all—is largely the result of this one man's idiosyncratic, but powerful, brand of revolution.

Libya's Early History

Until recent history Libya had no separate identity. What is now the country of Libya had almost always been part of some other nation or empire. Even the early inhabitants, the Berbers, were allegedly foreign invaders who came to Libya in 3000 BCE. Repeated conquests followed by long periods of foreign dominance created a notable absence of internal unity in Libya.

The foreign influences differed within Libya, which is comprised of three regions—Tripolitania, Cyrenica, and Fezzan—each cut off from the others by desert. Tripolitania province has always looked seaward and north for trade and cultural ties with Europe. Cyrenica province has always looked east for trade and cultural ties with Egypt and the Arab world. The Fezzan province looks south to Africa. Before the 1969 revolution these provinces looked outward more than inward.

Of all Libya's invaders, however, the Arabs had the most enduring influence by grafting their religion onto Libyan culture. Libyan culture is held together by Islam. The Arabs invaded Libya in waves beginning in the Middle Ages, intermarrying and trading with the resident Berber families. In this way Islam spread and the Berbers became arabized. The Ottoman Turks conquered the country in the sixteenth century and after that Libya remained, at least nominally, a part of the Ottoman Empire until the early twentieth century.

Beginning in the nineteenth century the Sanusiya movement unified eastern Libya. This was a movement dedicated to purifying and reforming Muslims and leading them back to a simple community of faith ruled by just leaders. The Grand Sanusi, its founder, was from Algeria. When European colonial powers began seizing North African territory, the Sanusi became warrior-monks and fought the foreign invaders.

Europeans in Libya

In 1911 Italy began to conquer Libya, and after World War I (1914-18) it began settling people there. The Italians met fierce resistance from the Sanusi warriors. Libyans fought hard because they believed that the Italians intended to exterminate them to make room for Italian settlers. The Italians used brutal means to suppress the resistance and treated Libyans as inferiors once in control.

Libya became the battleground during World War II (1939-45) on which German General Erwin Rommel and his Italian allies were defeated in a major turning point in the war. Libya's Grand Sanusi put the Sanusi warrior-monks under British command; thousands fought bravely and died. When the war ended the British military officers who served with Libyans supported them in their case for independence. A British military administration occupied northern Libya. The French occupied the Fezzan, and the United States built a major air base at Wheelus Field near Tripoli. After the war Italy, Russia, and France all wanted some portion of Libya under their control. The United States joined England in supporting independence for Libya under the leadership of the pro-British Grand Sanusi. In 1951, with British and American backing, the United Nations General Assembly approved independence for Libya under King Idris, the Grand Sanusi.

Idris's Kingdom

King Idris established a constitutional monarchy, which ruled Libya from 1951 until 1969. At the time of independence, Libya was comprised of three separate provinces with different identities. For most Libyans loyalty was to one's family, clan, village, tribal confederation, and certainly to Islam, but it was not to the king or the country. Tripolitanians openly talked of abolishing the monarchy. Only the Cyrenicans strongly supported King Idris.

In 1951 the per capita income in Libya was US$30 per year. By 1960 the king had lifted the per capita income to $100 per year, but most economists considered Libya a lost cause. It depended on income from Wheelus Air Field and on foreign aid for survival. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gave Libya $42 million each year because Libya's airfields were a vital part of U.S. Cold War strategy for containing the Soviet Union. Wheelus was Libya's largest single employer.

King Idris did not encourage political development in Libya; in fact, he outlawed all political parties, which he distrusted. This was to prove a mistake; he simply drove opposition underground. Despite his ban of parties, elections were held every four years. Only property-owning adult males could vote. The same legislators were reelected repeatedly. Discontent brewed, and several factions began plotting coups.

The Coup

On September 1, 1969, the charismatic and mercurial young Qadhafi engineered a military coup in which a group of about 70 military officers under his direction deposed King Idris. It was a bloodless coup, readily accepted by most of the Libyan population. After the coup, Qadhafi, then a captain in the military, announced to Libyans over the radio, "People of Libya…. your armed forces have undertaken the overthrow of the reactionary and corrupt regime…… From now on Libya is a free, sovereign republic, ascending with God's help to exalted heights."

For a time after the coup the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) governed, with Qadhafi serving as the de facto head of Libya. Islam was proclaimed the nation's state religion. Though the new leadership espoused a form of Arab socialism based on Islamic principles, it utterly rejected communism as atheistic. Among the first acts of the new government was to request the United States and Britain to remove their troops from the country. The Americans complied by June 1970.

The Revolutionary Un-Leader

Qadhafi said from the beginning that Libya would not be governed by an individual leader, but rather by the people. In 1973 he initiated a popular revolution, beginning by redistributing some of the country's oil wealth among the largest possible number of Libyans. He also provided Libyans with many social services. Industry in Libya began to thrive, with many new plants and factories opening.

With Libya prospering Qadhafi took some time away from actively governing to work on his revolutionary theory, which he called the Third Universal Theory. Set out in his two-volume The Green Book (1976 and 1978), the Third Universal Theory is an attempt to get beyond communism and capitalism, to find a natural form of socialism and direct democracy. It was his idea to place government, business, and military in the hands of the people. Qadhafi sought to make "workers partners in their enterprise [and] to give them a voice in management and control of their work." He encouraged Libyans to take over the companies they worked for. He also urged that they take over the organs of the government and to form people's committees for local rule. In 1977 the General People's Committee (GPC) proclaimed the new Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (the official name of the country: Jamahiriya can be translated roughly as "state of the masses" or "people's government").

To meet the rising movement toward Islamic fundamentalism and the ideal of a pure Islamic state, Qadhafi empowered the General People's Committee to apply sharia, or Islamic law, for marriage and divorce, wills and inheritance, crimes of theft and violence, and apostasy, meaning renunciation of faith in Islam. Despite this adherence to Muslim traditions, Qadhafi avidly supported women's rights. His social welfare programs offered free medical care, free education, and low-cost housing. Libya in Qadhafi's early days prospered well beyond expectations, largely because of its oil resources.

Libya is the largest producer of oil in Africa and one of the largest producers in the world. In the past few decades, oil income has transformed Libya from a poor nation into a rapidly developing nation, with one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa. The Libyan economy is still very vulnerable to price fluctuations, since the country does not have substantial agriculture or industry to sustain it during times of low oil prices. In the 1970s, with the greatly increased income brought in by oil, many Libyans revered Qadhafi as the leader who ushered in an era of unprecedented prosperity.

In 1980 oil prices began to fall. Throughout the decade Libya's economy deteriorated. By the mid-1980s the government began to expel tens of thousands of foreign workers, whom it could no longer pay. In 1984 opposition to Qadhafi within Libya grew. There was a coup attempt against him that he managed to stop. Qadhafi's reprisals were very harsh. Thousands were imprisoned and many were executed. Since that time he has periodically called for the death of his opponents who have fled to other countries.

Since the 1970s Qadhafi had been accused by the West of harboring terrorist groups in Libya. In 1986, when an explosion in a German discotheque killed two American soldiers, the United States retaliated against Libya with air strikes near Tripoli and Benghazi. During this time Libya was in intermittent war with Chad. These were not good times for Libyans and many grew discontent with their leader. By 1988 Qadhafi began to reverse the harshest of his policies and released political prisoners. But he began to severely oppress Islamic fundamentalists in Libya, believing they threatened his power base. He held onto power despite opposition.

Arab Unity

In his first years as a leader in Libya, Qadhafi took a very active role in Arab affairs, and was the foremost champion of Arab unity in the Middle East. He advocated a single military, legal system, business infrastructure, and foreign policy for all Arab nations. Most Arab leaders in the early 1970s did not believe there was much possibility that the nations of the Middle East would put aside differences to join in one union, at least not without years of preparation and change. Qadhafi, though, was determined. He even offered his own country to be the first to give up its individual borders and identity, to join with Egypt as the start of a league of Arab nations.

Qadhafi was deeply devoted to the support of Palestinians in their struggles against Israel. He worked to undermine Arab leaders he considered "reactionary," unfriendly, or undemocratic, and particularly those who were willing to negotiate with the Israelis. Although he had worked on Arab unity issues with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (1918-81), after Sadat forged a peace treaty with Israel in 1978-79, Qadhafi began to organize other Arab nations in opposition to Sadat and Egypt. Qadhafi did not believe that any Arab nation should negotiate with the Israelis.

Qadhafi then tried regional unions with Arab countries. His attempt at union with Morocco ended in 1984 when Qadhafi accused Morrocan King Hassan II of "Arab treason" for meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Shimon Peres. He tried a union with Algeria, but this too failed. In 1988 Libya joined the Arab Maghreb Union that linked Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya in a grouping modeled on the European Union.

At the same time that he was pressing for Arab unity, however, Qadhafi was working against it. He funded various groups throughout the Middle East that were planning coups in Arab countries, setting up guerrilla armies, or even conspiring to assassinate other leaders that Qadhafi wanted out of the way.

From Arab Unity to African Unity

In 1988 an explosion on Pan Am Flight 103 flying over Lockerbie, Scotland, claimed the lives of 259 passengers and crew and 11 people on the ground. The United States imposed sanctions on Libya, calling the nation the "prime suspect" in the bombing. The UN then imposed an air embargo on Libya. Western sanctions crippled Libya's economy and blighted the everyday lives of ordinary Libyans. To Qadhafi's horror, other Arab nations willingly upheld the UN embargo, despite his call to disregard it. Many African leaders, however, did violate the embargo and visited Libya in defiance of it, risking severe consequences. In 1997, despite strenuous U.S. objections, South African President Nelson Mandela visited Qadhafi in Libya and publicly expressed his appreciation of Qadhafi's support in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. At an OAU summit meeting the next year, African leaders decided to ignore the UN air embargo on Libya.

In the late 1990s Qadhafi began to distance himself from his former Arab allies and grew closer to his new African allies. Qadhafi declared in 1997 that Libya was African and no longer part of the Arab world. Shortly afterward, the Libyan leader began his push for the creation of the African Union. After years of isolation from the international stage, he came back to the fore with a whole new set of issues on behalf of another continent. Libya, once offered up as a pawn in the quest for Arab unity, was suddenly thrust into a new role as a potential leader of a united Africa.

The African Leader

As Qadhafi re-entered the international spotlight, it was clear to all that he wished to change his image considerably. He began by turning over the suspects in the Lockerbie explosion for trial. He became a prominent advocate of peace in Africa. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, quoted in a BBC News article, he said that for Africa: "the time for wars is over…. An army is costly and has nothing to do but coups. As for me, if a neighboring state wants to invade Libya, I'll scatter flowers on its way. Let it come to help me face Libya's problems." He worked rigorously with other African leaders to hasten the end of violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and in the many civil wars that plagued Africa. Qadhafi was successful in changing the way he was viewed in Europe, and the UN sanctions were removed.

Beginning in 1997 Qadhafi began his all-out campaign for the African Union, skillfully courting the nations of Africa to drum up support for the idea. He was quite successful in his campaign, due in part to his charismatic presence and in part to his financial backing. He used his nation's oil resources to sponsor the summit of the Organization of African Unity and to pay a significant part of the back OAU membership dues owed by several of the poorer African countries. Part of his promise was to open his own country's doors to Africans who wished to work there. He eased travel and visa requirements in Libya accordingly.

Libya Reacts to the New African Immigrant Population

For several years, hundreds of thousands of Africans flocked to Libya annually to find work. By the year 2000 an estimated one million (some estimates have claimed the number exceeded two million) African immigrants resided in the country, coming in primarily from Nigeria, Ghana, Chad, Niger, Gambia, and Sudan. Libya's population had only been 5 million to start, so the newcomers presented a significant population change; trouble soon began to brew. Unemployment rose to 30 percent and crime and drug trafficking erupted in a country where they had been almost nonexistent. An article in the Economist summarizes the bitterness and hostility that arose among the native Libyans. Noting that anti-black violence was on the rise and given impetus by Libya's economic crisis that made times harsh for the general public while the country's oil business drew in $11 billion, the article stated that "… Libyans, feeding their families on monthly salaries of $170, see the money squandered on foreign adventures, the latest of which is the colonel's pan-African policy. As billions flowed out in aid, and visa-less migrants flowed in, Libyans feared they were being turned into a minority in their own land."

In 2000, with growing pressure from the Libyan people, the government in Libya decided to crack down on the employment of foreigners and even to forcibly deport them. Many Africans were gathered as "illegal immigrants" and placed in detention centers. In September 2000, newspapers reported that 130 Africans in Libya had been killed in street violence. Thousands more were injured and forced from their homes. The Economist reported the experience of Nigerian welder Emeka Nwanko, "one of hundreds of thousands of black victims of the Libyan mob. He fled as gangs trashed his workshop. His friend was blinded, as Libyan gangs wielding machetes roamed the African townships. Bodies were hacked and dumped on motorways. A Chadian diplomat was lynched and Niger's embassy was put to the torch."

The Libyan government said the reports of violence were exaggerated and that only four people were dead. But before the anti-African violence there had been about a million Africans in Libya, and afterwards there were very few to be seen. Libya deported hundreds of thousands of Africans (unfairly blaming them for the violence) and held thousands more in detention camps, nominally for their own protection. Ghana's President Jerry Rawlings, concerned for the safety of Ghanaians in Libya, flew to Tripoli in early October to see what was going on with his countrymen who were being held in a detention camp. He brought 250 Ghanaians home with him that day.

For Qadhafi the attacks on African immigrants must have been the source of embarrassment in view of his Pan-African mission. He tried to blame the attacks on outsiders who wanted to damage his African unity campaign. But those who fled Libya told quite a different story. They said they had been attacked by youth gangs and that they believed the Libyan state forces were behind the attacks. They had experienced a great deal of hostility from Libyans before being attacked and forced to leave. In the end Qadhafi agreed to pay $20 million in retribution to ten thousand of the Africans who were deported. Unfortunately, many of the deportees never received the money and believe their governments pocketed it. Some of the African governments, notably Nigeria, wished to remain in Qadhafi's favor and have played down the incident.

Recent History and the Future

The Advantages of the African Union

Qadhafi's plan to go ahead with the African Union was not spoiled by the violence in Libya, and it appears in 2001 that the overall mission he pushed through could be beneficial to Africa on a number of different fronts. The economics of a large unified region are stronger than those of many small, poverty-ridden countries. It will be more effective to fight the AIDS/HIV epidemic and save millions of lives as a unified base. There is also the fact that 15 of the 53 countries of Africa are at war. While at war, Africa cannot advance economically or otherwise. An all-African peacekeeping force could intervene in these wars, restoring peace and settling ethnic conflicts without recourse to the United States or the United Nations. Qadhafi feels that if only for this reason, the United States should support the African Union, in order to avoid future U.S. or UN casualties.

In 1994 many African leaders were infuriated when the OAU stood by helplessly while 800,000 Tutsi were slaughtered by the Hutu majority in Rwanda, despite the fact that there had been advance warning of the genocidal plans. While a mere ten thousand African troops could probably have prevented the slaughter of innocent people, the old OAU rules tied the hands of those who wanted to act. The OAU had no army, no money, and no mandate to intervene in the affairs of member nations. Its main objective was to liberate the continent of Africa, a worthy goal that has been achieved. The president of the OAU was a figurehead. The president of the AU, on the other hand, will have the power to intervene with a continent-wide army as well as a mandate to act on behalf of Africa.

In a world headed toward increasing globalization the AU makes good sense economically. Small banks are merging with larger ones everywhere, so why not create a continent-wide financial institution? Just as Europe now has the euro, a new currency, Africa will also have a single currency, which will make it easier and cheaper to do business across the entire continent. There are 680,000,000 people in Africa, forming a huge and potentially lucrative market for African products.

It will not be easy for powerful heads of state in the individual nations of Africa to sacrifice power, prestige, and influence for the sake of the continent. Will African nations put aside their current power structures and alliances to rally to the banner of the African Union?

Where Will This Lead?

Qadhafi has an impulsive and whimsical personality. He seized power in a military coup d'état in 1969 and began to attempt to play a role in international relations. Clearly wanting to cast himself as a major world actor, he turned to the Arab world and tried to unite all Arabs behind him. After this failed he shifted his attention to Africa, where he now uses diplomacy and economic leverage to act as a regional power. The 1999 African summit at Sirte was his first foray into this new area. After 30 years of experimentation and impractical political theories Qadhafi has, at least temporarily and in some place, achieved some success in remaking himself as a regional statesman. It should be noted, however, that his position in his own nation of Libya is somewhat precarious, with a strong Islamic movement opposing him. In Libya Qadhafi is under fire for his oppression of the Islamists and has been the target of several assassination attempts in the late 1990s.

Qadhafi's dream of a future United States of Africa faces many obstacles, not the least of which is the prevailing image of Qadhafi himself as a troublemaker and manipulator, not to mention the quixotic world revolutionary leader. He will also need to overcome the doubts that were cast when his own nation, Libya, rose up to attack the African immigrants he invited to his country as a part of his Pan-African campaign. Qadhafi has the capacity to make changes for the good in Africa. Suspicions about his motivations linger internationally and can only be dispelled if he stays the course.


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Dallas L. Browne


1951 With British and American backing, the UnitedNations approves independence for Libya under King Idris.

1963 Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser andKwame Nkrumah, president of Ghana, call a meeting of all African leaders in Cairo, Egypt, to discuss the union of African nations into a single state headed by one ruler. The Organization of African States that emerges is a much weaker institution than its creators had envisioned.

September 1, 1969 Muammar al-Qadhafi engineers a bloodless military coup in which a group of about 70 military officers depose King Idris.

1970 Qadhafi announces his intention to pursue a federation of Arab nations and begins to work with Egypt on plans for a union.

1976 The first volume of Qadhafi's The Green Book, setting out his revolutionary theory of a socialized Islamic people's government, is published.

1977 The General People's Committee (GPC) proclaims the new Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

1978 Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat concludes a peace agreement with Israel, infuriating Qadhafi, who then organizes other Arab nations in opposition to Egypt.

1979 A mob sets fire to the U.S. embassy in Tripoli.Staff members were withdrawn from the country. The U.S. government declares Libya a "state sponsor of terrorism."

1980s Oil prices begin to fall and Libya's economy deteriorates. Tens of thousands of foreign workers are expelled. Opposition to Qadhafi's rule increases.

1984 Qadhafi attempts to form a regional union withMorocco, but then accuses Morrocan King Hassan II of "Arab treason" for meeting with Israel's PrimeMinister Shimon Peres.

1986 Libya is accused of the Berlin discotheque terrorist bombing; the United States launches an air strike against targets near Tripoli and Benghazi in April.

1988 The explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Locker-bie, Scotland, claims the lives of 259 passengers and crew. The United States imposes sanctions on Libya as the "prime suspect" in the bombing, and the UN imposes an air embargo on Libya, severely damaging Libya's already shaky economy.

1997 Despite air embargoes, South African PresidentNelson Mandela visits Qadhafi in Libya and publicly expresses his appreciation of Qadhafi's support in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

1997 Qadhafi declares that Libya is African and no longer part of the Arab world.

1997 Qadhafi opens Libya to foreigners by easing travel and visa restrictions. Hundreds of thousands of African immigrants annually begin to enter the country seeking work.

1999 Qadhafi surrenders the two men accused of blowing up PanAm Flight 103 for trial in Scotland.

1999 The UN sanctions against Libya are suspended.

1999 Qadhafi convenes a summit at Sirte with the leaders of all African states to discuss a union of African nations.

2000 An estimated one million African immigrants reside in Libya, coming in primarily from Nigeria, Ghana, Chad, Niger, Gambia, and Sudan. Unemployment rises.

September 2000 Libyan youth gangs rise up against theAfrican workers in their country, killing 130 Africans and injuring thousands more. Hundreds of thousands of African immigrants are expelled from Libya.

March 2001 After a two-day summit of 40 African heads of state in Sirte, Libya, the creation of a new African Union is announced.

September 11, 2001 Qadhafi condemns the terrorist attacks on the United States and offers to send aid to the American people.

Excerpt from a Speech by President Nelson Mandela at a Banquet Hostedby Colonel Qadhafi

South African president Nelson Mandela offered his support to Qadhafi in a speech in Libya on October 22, 1997. At the time, Libya was under a United Nations-sponsored air embargo, which Mandela ignored in order to travel to Libya. The full text of the speech is available through the Office of the President: African National Congress. Entitled "Mandela Speaks," it is located on the World Wide Web at (cited February 1, 2002).

Our visit to your country, brief as it has had to be, has proved a moving experience. The people of Libya shared the trenches with us in our struggle for freedom. You were in the front ranks of those whose selfless and practical support helped assure a victory that was as much yours as it is ours….

The suffering of the people of any single country affects all of us no matter where we find ourselves. That is why it is so important that multilateral bodies assume collective responsibility for finding fair and just solutions to problems in the world, taking into account equally the considerations of the weak and the mighty; the rich and the poor; developed and developing nations alike.

As Africans, especially as those who have benefited from African solidarity, we cannot be unmoved by the plight of African brothers. We should all redouble our efforts to have Africa's collective voice heard in the councils of the world in finding such fair, just and even-handed solutions.

We look forward keenly to the time when this great country can again take its rightful place in the community of nations….

We … share, as a priority, the welfare and development of the continent of Africa. This should indeed be so, as this is our continent; as we are the children of Africa.

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi

1942- Muammar Qadhafi was born in Sirte, Libya, in 1942, the son of a poor Berber family. His political views began to take shape while he was in his teens, attending school in the Fezzan province. Great changes were taking place at that time in Egypt, where Gamal Abel Nasser, the Egyptian president, was calling for Arab unity. Inspired by the ideas and political actions of Nasser, Qadhafi organized student demonstrations in Libya. He was expelled from school but continued his education near Tripoli while organizing a secret revolutionary movement. After graduation in 1963, Qadhafi joined the Military Academy in Benghazi and helped to create the nucleus of the Free Unionist Officers Movement, an organization aimed at overthrowing Libyan King Idris and taking over power in the country.

After graduating from the Military Academy in 1965, Qadhafi was sent to an army school in Britain. On his return to Libya he enrolled at the University of Benghazi and majored in history. Commissioned in the army in 1966, he never finished his studies.

On September 1, 1969, Qadhafi instructed a group of young officers to seize power of Libya. After a bloodless coup, he proclaimed the Libyan Arab Republic. On September 10 Qadhafi was named the president of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), the chief organ of the new regime.

Qadhafi's first years in power were remarkable for his persistent attempts to bring about the union of Arab countries. Despite his enthusiasm, Qadhafi failed to achieve Arab unity, and went on to work out his political theory, an unusual blend of Islamic fundamentalism and socialism. The Green Book appeared in 1976, which advocated some drastic political and economic policies, in which Libyan workers were encouraged to take over the businesses they worked for and citizens were to take over local governments.

Between 1980 and 1987 oil prices fell. Economic and transportation sanctions on Libya were imposed by the United States and the United Nations for Qadhafi's alleged involvement with international terrorist groups. Libya's economy eroded quickly. By 1988 there was strong opposition to Qadhafi's policies and there were many attempts to overthrow him. To survive politically Qadhafi began to change course. In 1988-89 he set free a number of political prisoners and invited members of the opposition living abroad to come home.

As acts of international terrorism became more frequent in 1980s, Qadhafi was perceived to be the source of training and financing of such activities. In 1986 the United States carried out a retaliatory bombing raid on Libya, killing nearly 100 people. Qadhafi claimed that he was innocent and said that one of his children had been killed during the raid. But the United States and the UN continued to isolate the leader and his country for many years. In the late 1990s, Qadhafi altered international perceptions of him to some degree when he began to appear on the scene once again as a leading proponent of African Unity.

Constitutive Act of the African Union, Articles 2-4

The Constitutive Act of the African Union was adopted in Lomé, Togo, on July 11, 2000. The act required ratification by a two-thirds majority of member nations. The 36th and final ratification was entered on April 26, 2001, and the Constitutive Act was entered into force on May 26, 2001, establishing the African Union. At the July 2001 Lusaka Summit the OAU Secretary-General announced that all member states had signed, and that the number of countries that had ratified the act had reached 51 in total.

Thirty-three articles comprise the Constitutive Act of the African Union, which sets forth guidelines for the establishment and government of the Union. A summary of the contents of Articles 2-4 follows.

Article 2 explicitly establishes the African Union. The remainder of the articles outline various issues common to most constitutions such as objectives, procedures, and legislative processes to which the member states of the African Union will adhere, as well as setting forth the ruling bodies of the African Union.

Article 3 describes the objectives of the African Union. There are fourteen objectives outlined within Article 3. The African Union seeks to unify the countries and people of the continent of Africa and protect the boundaries and independence of each of the member nations. Article 3 also addresses unity in common interests within the continent and the promotion of political and economic integration of African countries. International relations are also addressed, as Article 3 proposes cooperation with such international agreements as the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In accord with these agreements the African Union seeks to further the cause peace and security within Africa, encourage governments to adhere to democratic ideals, such as citizen participation in government, and the defense of human rights.

Economic issues are also a focus of Article 3, which sets forth the intention of improving Africa's economic standing on a global level through development and integration of the continent, improving the standard of living, and coordinating of the policies of the Regional Economic Communities within Africa to assure the realization of the economic goals established in the Constitutive Act. The article also declares that the African Union will work with international bodies in improving the health of Africans and encourage research to advance science and technology. In essence Article 3 lays out the African Union's plan for improving African society.

With the establishment and objectives of the African Union firmly in place, Article 4 delineates the principles of the African Union. The majority of the principles address mutual cooperation and peace among the member nations. The respect of boundaries, non-intrusion in the internal affairs of one member nation by another, and peaceful solutions to conflict between member nations are all laid out within Article 4. A policy of non-aggression is also included.

The African Union also establishes its ability to function as a peacekeeping force if asked by a member nation or if it is deemed that a conflict cannot be solved without the African Union's intervention. The article also reiterates the objectives of human rights and equality laid out in Article 3, specifically referring to gender equality, promotion of democracy and social justice, respect for human life, and denunciation of terrorism and other acts against humanity.

Through the Constitutive Act, the African Union apparently is attempting to bring the continent of Africa together as one community and align itself with international bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations in the hopes of improving and advancing the interests of the African people.