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Home >> World
UPDATED: 08:01, July 01, 2005
Roundup: Libya to host AU summit, eyeing bigger role in Africa
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Sirte, Libya's Mediterranean port city distinct for being legendary leader Muammar Ghaddafi's birthplace, is to host an African Union (AU) summit next week.

Analysts view the coming galaxy gathering as another effort of the once outcast country to play a bigger role in Africa.

Stepping out of isolation due to years of international sanctions, Libya is expected to put forward a bunch of ambitious proposals in the pan-African summit slated for July 4-5.

It will renovate the idea of establishing a "United States of Africa", first initiated by Ghaddafi in 1999, and call for the removal of all trade barriers between AU member countries, the unification of customs tariffs, the unification of transport and communications networks and the launching of an African satellite.

Eager to consolidate its rehabilitation within the international community, Libya will persist in attempts to play a more high- profile role on the African political stage in order to gain influence and recognition it was previously denied, said analysts.

"Despite being an Arab country, Libya has very much turned its back on the Arab world and shifted its attention toward Africa since its leader Ghaddafi was left frustrated and disillusioned with the vision to build up a unified Arab world," said Saber Rabie, a Cairo-based political observer.

Six years ago in Sirte, African leaders pledged their commitment to Ghaddafi's proposal to establish the African Union, the first step of significance on the way towards the continent's integration.

"Ghaddafi has a long-term eye. Never giving up his dream of 'unity' and 'great leadership', he wants to achieve a unified Africa instead and become one of the major players in the continent," Rabie added.

"Besides, as a leader of long resistance against the colonial powers and the West, Ghaddafi has the ability to garner recognition and respect in Africa," he went on.

Toppling the pro-US king in 1969, Ghaddafi has become leader of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and established himself as an outspoken critic of the West.

But since the mid 1980s, Libya has been subject to upgrading sanctions by the United States and the European Union over its alleged terror links.

The United Nations imposed sanctions of its own on Tripoli in 1992 after the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, of which Libya was accused.

Meanwhile, Libya's relations with other Arab countries soured in the late 1990s as the Arab League refused to join the African countries to denounce the UN sanctions on Tripoli. Since then, Ghaddafi, a man of Bedouin origin, has listed Africa as the pivot of Libya's diplomacy.

The northern African country's international relations have been dramatically improved as it agreed to accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and the conclusion of a compensation settlement for the families of the victims.

Of equal significance and surprise to the world was Tripoli's announcement in December 2003 that Libya would abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs and accept more stringent weapons inspections.

Tripoli did not fail to get its rewards. The UN, US and EU lifted economic sanctions over the past two years and Libya is moving back to the international mainstream.

UNITED STATES OF AFRICA

"A founding father of the African union, Ghaddafi has to a certain degree succeeded in becoming a famous leader in Africa. Wherever he goes in Africa, his voice is heard and his presence noted," said Rabie.

Enjoying good relations with African leaders and militia groups, Libya has been active in playing the peacemaker in the continent. Its recent efforts to mediate over the crisis in Sudan's Darfur exemplify this.

Libya has managed to organize two mini-African summits on the Darfur crisis during the past nine months, pushing all parties concerned to the negotiating table for a peaceful settlement.

With its generosity resulted from petrodollars and aggressive diplomacy, Libya is also striving to build up a "United States of Africa" -- turning the whole African continent into one big nation with one army, a single currency and centralized government institutions.

A seven-country AU commission that is exploring the prospects of the Libyan proposal will report to the Sirte summit on the review of the grand project.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who heads the commission said in a June review meeting, "A consensus is beginning to develop in Africa ?? We need economic integration, but we need to go beyond that into political integration, and into security integration or coordination."

The coming AU summit is set to give fresh consideration to Ghaddfi's "United States of Africa" which will help the poorest continent integrate and accumulate strength and wisdom to seek development and face challenges in a more globalized world, said analysts.

"Ghaddafi's ambition (to set up a 'United States of Africa') will definitely help the African continent toward greater economic cooperation and integration. This will in turn help Africa go up to the UN Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty," said a veteran Egyptian economist Salah Abulmaga.

"The proposal can also do benefit to unifying Africa with a louder voice on the international political stage," he added.

But Abulmaga meanwhile cautioned that there was still a long way to go in order to attain to that grand picture.

"The task is actually quite daunting. It is really difficult to unify a continent polarized in wealth and development and with such diversity in ethnics, religion, culture, to name a few," he said.

"Moreover, the proposal will continue to meet doubts from the sub-Saharan regional heavyweights, such as Nigeria and South Africa, which do not want to see any attempt that might undermine their own authority in the region," he continued.

Although Libya's project to build one grand "United States of Africa" may seem premature today, the country is certain no longer the international pariah it once was.

Source: Xinhua


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