President Qaddafi of the United States of Africa

>> Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This is a story that i found moderately interesting, the proposal for a United states of Africa. The catalyst for this discussion was the election of President Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to the Chairpersonship of the African Union. It seems a strange concept that all of Africa could untie along the E.U. model with common currency, passport, military, etc. What does this election of Qaddafi signal for the immediate future of the A.U. and Africa? How did Qaddafi get elected as the head of the A.U.? Its a more interesting story than you think.

From Foreign Policy Passport,

It's not as if the title came unexpectedly. North Africa was up for the regionally rotating seat. So beginning last summer, Qaddafi crowned himself "king of kings," quite literally by inviting 200 traditional rulers to Libya so that they might elect him. He arrived at the AU summit with seven more well-dressed kings by his side (turns out they didn't make the guest list and weren't allowed in). And once inside, Qaddafi is said to have circulated a letter with a simple message: I am king of kings, and I expect to be treated like one. No big shocker when the closed door vote put Qaddafi at the reigns.

Keeping up with Qaddafi's eccentricities is certainly an engaging pastime. But the big news is actually that he might be good at the job. The Libyan leader garners a lot of respect where it is most needed these days. In Zimbabwe, Qaddafi's credibility as a leader who has 'stood up' to the West and supported anti-apartheid in South Africa could at least win him an audience (and some sway -- should he use it) with Mugabe. Likewise, Qaddafi could do some good in Somalia where a newly elected moderate-Muslim President, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, desperately needs help holding together a weak government. Qaddafi has the oil money and religious credentials to push the right ways.

Qaddafi's main focus at the summit was the promotion of a United States of Africa. He has set a rather ambitious goal for his plan, July. In order to achieve it he has gone so far as too alter procedure to require a 2/3 vote against the proposal in order to defeat it. He created a system where silence is acceptance. How realistic is it that the African Union transforms the continent of Africa into a single nation state?

[A]n expert on the African Union called the vision of the United States of Africa a "ludicrous fantasy on the part of [Col] Gaddafi."

Kathryn Sturman at the South African Institute of International Affairs said many African leaders would not be prepared to give up their national sovereignty to join the proposed single-state federation proposed by the Libyan leader.

Ms Sturman said the chair of the group does not have any singular decision-making power, and cannot push through any changes without the consensus of the other leaders.

The idea for a United states of Africa is not new and although it seems overly ambitious to believe it will be brought about in July the idea is not to be dismissed. There are significant possible benefits to the countries and people of Africa if the manage to successfully unite into a functioning state. It would immediately increase their bargaining power on the world stage in areas such as climate change and global trade.

As always with ventures of this type there are considerations of sovereignty and nationalism to address. Even in Africa where there are numerous failed states, (somalia hasnt hada government in 18 years) and massive infrastructure problems. There is also a question of shared identity in a pan-african state.

It is very hard to create a legitimate government based on a strong federalist model where the central government is weak and the sub states have a great level of autonomy. unless the central government can exert considerable control over the substrates then it would make dealing with the internal problems of Africa like HIV/AIDs incredibly difficult. Note how hard it is to get the different african states to commit to peacekeeping missions in other african countries. If Africa were to unite the people who formerly identified as Congolese or Libyan would be required to fight in somalia and other hot spots.

Anything that manages to reduce the violence and poverty in Africa should be welcome. However the United States of Africa seems like an idea that will be long in the making. Africa has many problems that it must deal with before it is stable and successful enough to unite under one government. Colonel Qaddafi can dream but the USA II is a long way off.


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