Date: Sat Jun 13 2009 - 00:44:45 EDT
Gaddafi’s Grand Plan
As the Libyan president pushes for the creation of the ‘United States of
Africa’ to boost the continent’s international voice, African
opposition and a lack of pragmatism prove obstacles, Edoardo Totolo writes
for ISN Security Watch.
By Edoardo Totolo for ISN Security Watch
During his inaugural speech as chairman of the African Union in February
2009, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi proposed the ambitious plan to
speed-up the establishment of the United States of Africa: a federation of
countries with one government, one currency, one passport and one army.
This proposal has reopened the Pan-African debate on whether unity can
bring peace and development to the continent, but policy-makers and
academics seem to have diverging views on this issue.
On the one side, optimist pan-African leaders argue that the unification of
Africa will increase dramatically the continent’s influence on global
affairs, and it will reduce the problem of tribal violence around the
This was the argument proposed by Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere - the
great fathers of Pan-Africanism in the 1960s - who prophetically argued
that “Nationalism outside Pan-Africanism is tribalism.”
They strongly condemned the “Balkanization” (i.e. fragmentation) of
Africa and proposed the continental unification. However, whereas Nkrumah
wanted the immediate establishment of the United States of Africa, Nyerere
advocated for a gradual approach, focusing first on the establishment of
strong regional blocs and, eventually, towards a full political and
On the other hand, a majority of commentators today are less optimistic,
and see the United States of Africa as a utopia, an impossible project that
failed to start in the 1960s and would certainly not work in the present
day, nearly 50 years after African countries achieved independence. Many
also point out that today’s main advocate for the United States of
Africa, Gaddafi, is not credible for such an ambitious plan, mainly because
of his dubious past.
>From terrorism to Pan-Africanism
The interest that Gaddafi has grown for African unity closely reflects the
history of Libya over the past two decades.
During the 1980s, Gaddafi was accused of having supported major terrorist
attacks, such as those at the Rome and Vienna airports in 1985 and in the
La Belle Club in West Berlin in 1986. After Ronald Reagan’s pre-emptive
strike in April 1986, two Libyan security agents were accused of provoking
the explosion of the Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people while the
aircraft was flying over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.
In 1993, the UN Security Council imposed an air and arms embargo and a ban
on the sale of oil equipment to Libya, which began a period of severe
economic hardship for the country.
The situation improved when African leaders offered their support to
Gaddafi. In particular, former South African president Nelson Mandela
visited Libya twice in one week in 1997, despite US disagreement, in order
to find a solution to the UN sanctions, which were eventually lifted in
According to the Pan-Africanist intellectual Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, it was
the Lockerbie incident that triggered Gaddafi’s decision to push for
stronger political and economic unity in Africa.
In fact, in 1999, he promoted the extra-ordinary session of the
Organization of African Unity in the Libyan city of Sirte, which initiated
the process of transformation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)
into the African Union (AU). In the following years, Gaddafi expressed his
dream to create the United States of Africa at the AU summits in Togo
(2000), Guinea (2007) and Ethiopia (2009).
Gaddafi’s proposal was received rather coldly by other African leaders,
especially those from Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia, who maintain to be in
favor of African unity but are not willing to embrace the fast-track
proposed by Gaddafi. The leaders therefore reached an agreement on
expanding the mandate of the existing AU Commission, which will be renamed
the African Union Authority.
Gaddafi rejects the ‘gradualist’ argument that deepening regional
integration is a necessary step before reaching continental unity, and
agrees with Nkrumah’s argument that “regionalization is a Balkanization
on a larger scale.”
Referring to North Africa, he said: “Imagine when North Africa will
become one state from Egypt to Mauritania. This will not happen…Even
Algeria and Morocco which are sisterly countries are in a state of war and
will never meet. Libya and Egypt will not unite. Impossible!”
This view is shared by influential scholar Issa Shivji, who argues that
while logic was on Nyerere’s side (in favor of regionalism), history has
vindicated Nkrumah’s argument that regionalization does not work. He
reports several failed attempts, such as “Senegambia” (union of Senegal
and Gambia), created in 1982 and dissolved in 1989; the Mali Federation,
between Mali and Senegal, which lasted less than two years. A longer union
was the one created by the Italian Somalia and the British Somaliland,
which, however, has been de facto dissolved after the regime of Siad Barre
collapsed in 1991.
Gaddafi has also recently confirmed his radical view on democracy in
Africa. During the inaugural speech after his election as AU chairman, he
argued that multiparty democracy was not an appropriate political system
for the continent.
“We don't have any political structures [in Africa], our structures are
social. Our parties are tribal parties - that is what has led to
bloodshed,” he said. Gaddafi therefore proposed to replicate the
dictatorial model used in Libya for the rest of Africa.
Other radical views on democracy are outlined in the so-called Green Book,
a highly controversial publication in which Gaddafi states that the
“parliament is a misrepresentation of the people,” and that
“parliamentary systems are a false solution to the problem of
New and old obstacles
Many obstacles that Gaddafi has to face today are very similar to those
that Nkrumah and Nyerere could not solve during the 1960s. In particular,
most African leaders are not willing to cede part of their national
sovereignty (and the privileges related to it) to a supranational
institution. Nyerere’s comment made five decades ago could perfectly fit
“Once you multiply national anthems, national flags and national
passports, seats at the United Nations, and individuals entitled to 21 gun
salutes, not to speak of a host of ministers, prime ministers, and envoys,
you would have a whole army of powerful people with vested interests in
keeping Africa balkanised.”
Moreover, there is a more general problem that building a Pan-African state
– today, as in the past – is envisaged as a purely political, rather
than social, enterprise. Whereas there have been talks, meetings and
summits designed for political leaders to discuss unification, civil
society groups and citizens have never been included.
Pan-Africanism is a very ambitious long-term process, which certainly will
not succeed if it remains only a theoretical discussion for sophisticated
intellectuals and the political elite, completely detached from the
everyday reality of ordinary African citizens.
Edoardo Totolo is a freelance writer and academic researcher based in
Amsterdam. His fields of expertise are private sector development and the
impact of informal economies on human security in Sub-Saharan Africa.