African business, politics and lifestyle
Gaddafi tries to steal show at African Summit. Again
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been stealing the show at African Union summits for years now. With theatrical – sometimes bizarre – entrances, rambling, grandiose speeches and his well-known penchant for dressing up, Gaddafi has gobbled up media coverage and bemused his fellow leaders.
But he probably wasn’t expecting what happened yesterday when he introduced two traditional African “kings” to speak to the assembled African leaders. Peals of laughter started to ring around the room. It began when he made the announcement and it continued as they spoke. It seems that some African delegates have begun to consider the continent’s longest serving leader ridiculous. And aren’t afraid to show it.
He turned up with the “kings” at last year’s summit, too. Despite opposition from some African leaders, he was then elected chairman of the African Union and set about trying to push his pet project of a “United States of Africa”.
Many Africans suspect he sees himself the obvious leader of such an entity
“On behalf of the traditional kings, on behalf of all the sultans, on behalf of all the princes, on behalf of all the customary rulers, I want to say thank you to the King of Kings who we have crowned,” one of the “kings” said on Gaddafi’s election last year.
That statement was struck from the record.
The man who likes to be referred to as “Brother leader” came to Addis Ababa this year to try for another year as chairman to continue preaching the politically united Africa that most analysts think an impossible dream for such a complex continent.
But it wasn’t to be. After a year of disagreements with the AU’s top diplomat, Jean Ping, and, some say, serving as more of an embarrassment than a figurehead, Gaddafi’s peers voted him out in favour of Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika.
And the man still called “Colonel” by some in the West did not taking it lying down.
In a bad-tempered resignation speech he attacked the organization that he had wanted to lead for another year. It was the political equivalent of the child who, when a goal is scored against his team, takes his ball and goes home.
The AU, a surly-looking Gaddafi said, had “tired” him out with long meetings and didn’t ask him every time it wanted to make a declaration or issue a report.
“It was like we were building a new atomic bomb or something,” he said, referring to meetings that had gone on until the early hours in some cases.
“They were really useless,” he said. Later he said he was disappointed with the AU, as were all Africans, and that the AU chairman had little real power.
Which provoked the obvious question from some at the summit: so why did you fight so hard to keep the job?
Late on the night of his ousting, Gaddafi called a news conference and spent an hour holding forth on everything from European history to the Iraq war.
If ever a United States of Africa were to become a reality, I asked him, do you think you would be its first President?
He smiled for a bit, staring at me and raising one eyebrow.
“Things like this,” he said. “Should never be about personality.”
And, with that, he was gone.