Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
16 - 22 September 1999
Issue No. 447
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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One step for Africa, two for Libya

By Dina Ezzat

Great aspirations and too many constraints is perhaps the simplest way of summarising the extraordinary summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which concluded its work in the Libyan city of Sirte last Thursday.

The idea for the summit, which convened less than two months after the annual OAU summit in Algiers in July, was the brain-child of Libyan leader Mu'ammar Gaddafi who has of late been in a floridly African mood.

This reorientation of Libyan attitudes began last year after the OAU unilaterally adopted, and implemented, a decision to ignore the seven-year-long UN-imposed air embargo on Libya. Frustrated with the Arab failure to follow where the OAU had led, Gaddafi has since devoted himself to the cause of African unity -- the theme of last week's summit.

Striving to bring about his dream, the Libyan leader hoped to persuade the African leaders and politicians who gathered in Sirte to amend the OAU charter in order to transform it into a full-blooded mandate for the establishment of a United States of Africa, complete with an African Congress.

But no such luck: few -- if any -- of the African leaders who made the journey to Sirte was ready -- at least as yet -- to commit to such a programme.

Arriving in Libya accompanied by large delegations, most heads of states seemed more than happy simply to enjoy the generous hospitality of their hosts, passing the best part of their time at the many festivities that Tripoli had organised in their honour -- among them, a four-hour military parade. The leaders were interested in talking about the idea of African unity in theory, but none of them -- not even Algerian President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika, the current chair of the OAU -- came up with any concrete plan of action which might lead them closer to that end.

The consensus seemed to be that the political unification of the entire continent was simply unrealistic, particularly at a time when -- as so often -- most African countries are engaged in some sort of civil strife or border dispute.

However, there was a more realistic core to Gaddafi's ambitious scheme -- a plan of action designed to promote closer political and economic relations between African nations. This was the heart of the Sirte Declaration that was issued as the summit's final session came to an end at midnight last Thursday.

The Sirte Declaration endorsed the establishment of the African Congress and called upon African leaders to work to see it launched by the year 2010 at the very latest.

The Declaration, which will come into effect by the beginning of the year 2000, also called on the states to adopt all necessary measures to upgrade the mechanisms of African coordination.

Yet despite these successes, Gaddafi did not get exactly what he wanted. In particular, his plan to have the OAU charter amended was substantially reduced, the Sirte Declaration merely endorsing efforts to "upgrade" the charter so as to make it more "compatible" with the challenges of the coming century.

"We are literally on the threshold of a new century. It is therefore appropriate for the OAU to consider ways of upgrading its terms of action," commented Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, who headed Egypt's delegation to the summit.

Addressing the closing session of the summit, Moussa praised Gaddafi for inviting the summit to convene in Libya at "this very opportune and critical moment for Africa".

Perhaps the most concrete and well-timed outcome of this summit was the call for an African conference for coordination, peace, and stability in the continent.

As participants to the summit agreed, the many wars that afflict Africa at present, and which seem set to continue to occur in the future, make it vital that they work to secure a greater degree of stability for their continent.

"We have to secure peace and stability in Africa. This is the only way for us to move forward," commented Algerian President Bouteflika.

This may seem to be an elusive objective. But it is something to which several African countries, including Egypt, are clearly committed.

And as the delegations began to head back to their countries, Gaddafi could not have felt anything but pleased with the results of his summit. Coinciding as it did with the 30th anniversary of his revolution, it enabled him to demonstrate in decisive fashion, in particular to the US, that his country had returned in style to the international stage.

"When we called for this summit, we did so because we wanted to promote the cause of African unity. But at the same time, the whole world can see for itself the good and strong ties that bind Libya to its African neighbours," commented Ali El-Trikki, the Libyan minister for African affairs.

Asked whether there was any news about Libya's relations with other countries -- such as the US -- El-Trikki answered, "We are ready for dialogue with the US if they are ready." And he added, "We believe that the issue of our relations with the US should not be looked at either from an inferior or a superior perspective."

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