Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Monday, February 2

Qaddafi to head African Union

Muammar el-Qaddafi was elected to the one-year chairmanship of the African Union today. As with just about anything in which Qaddafi is involved, the event had a hint of the bizarre, as Qaddafi had 30 customary leaders from around Africa accompany him to the A.U. conference (though they weren't allowed in), so that they could anoint him "King of Kings."

As Reuters reports, the keystone of Qaddafi's platform at the helm of the A.U. is the pan-Africanist proposal for a unified continental government—the United States of Africa. The proposal has some prominent supporters, like Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal; but it has its detractors, too, particularly South Africa, the region's dominant economic force.

Elizabeth Dickinson at FP Passport, though, thinks Qaddafi might just be the right person for the job, especially concerning places where a strong A.U. presence is needed most: he's had his run-ins with the West, which might lend him credibility with Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe; and he is a Muslim leader with significant oil money, which could help him win favor in Somalia, which is under the tutelage of a brand new president, a moderate cleric and former leader of the Islamic Courts Union, the only authority to bring any semblance of stability to the country in the past 18 years.

But Qaddafi, as always, will likely have to sidestep some controversies along the way. Even today, he broke with protocol in suggesting his unity project would be approved next meeting unless a majority voted against it, specifying further that a no-vote was a yes-vote. "There is a rule in Islam," he explained, "it is that silence is approval. If you say something to somebody and he is silent then it means that he has accepted."

Qaddafi has gotten in trouble before for bringing up religion. Last year in Uganda, a predominantly Christian country, Qaddafi closed a two-hour speech in Nakivubo Stadium by claiming that any copy of the Old Testament without mention of the prophet Muhammad (i.e., the Bible or Torah) was a forgery made by men.

Most Qaddafi-related controversies, though, are far less mundane. On that same trip to Uganda, at the unveiling of the national mosque in Kampala, Qaddafi's personal guards pushed out of the way the escorts for other African leaders, starting a mêlée involving security personnel of at least 10 nations—Lybia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, and Djibouti.

Qaddafi's guards had caused drama before, when he arrived in Abuja, Nigeria, a couple years ago—this time, though, it was because his small battalion of 200 female bodyguards, known as the Amazonian Guard, refused to relinquish their weapons at the airport.

So, while Qaddafi may have the right résumé for the job, if he can't even make peace among presidential entourages, it does seem fair to ask how he's going to get 52 whole countries to fall in line?