July 4, 2005

Maverick Gaddafi calls for borderless Africa

By Paul de Bendern

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafiunderlined his maverick reputation Monday by telling Africanleaders their people's woes would be solved by creating aborderless continent with a single passport.

Asking for foreign aid would lead to humiliating failure,he said.

"Begging will not make the future of Africa, (instead) itcreates a greater gap between the great ones and the smallones," he told the opening session of a summit of the 53-nationAfrican Union (AU) in his home town Sirte.

The veteran leader's vision has had little impact on theagenda of the AU, due to adopt a broadly favorable stance on aBritish-backed drive for more help for Africa to be presentedto this week's Group of Eight summit.

But few delegates in Sirte were prepared to offer publiccriticism of Gaddafi or his ambitions.

Gaddafi has since 1999 pushed for the creation of a UnitedStates of Africa, complete with its own parliament andinstitutions. He says his plan does not necessarily mean acountry's sovereignty will be sacrificed.

Banners at the summit read "The United States of Africa isthe hope" and "Enough plundering of African resources."

Not wanting to offend Gaddafi, whose oil wealth andaggressive diplomacy have won him friends around the continent,African leaders praised the ideas and agreed to review them.

In power since a 1969 coup, Gaddafi says African nationsmust unite to survive in an increasingly globalized world.

The ideas sound seductive to many ordinary Africans whoadmire his anti-Western opinions and pride in the continent.

"We are one single nation ... we need to a unique Africancommon market that is competitive," said Gaddafi, dressed in apurple traditional robe and hat.

"Fifty percent of gold in the world is in Africa, 95percent of diamonds are in Africa and 95 percent of platinum isfound in Africa ... it's a very rich continent, but it is notexploited (by Africans)," he said.


Gaddafi made African unity a rallying call after failing toget fellow Arab leaders to support his campaign for a unitedArab nation.

Critics of Gaddafi question his motives, describing theUnion as a pitch for power in the continent. Others questionthe practicalities.

"His views are not in line with the rest of Africa on anumber of issues," said Sue Mbaya, director of thePretoria-based Southern African Regional Poverty Network.

An African diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, said:"Gaddafi is a maverick and will remain a maverick."

Few at the summit were prepared to comment on a passage inhis speech on AIDS.

Gaddafi told the leaders of a continent where 2 millionpeople die of AIDS every year that the pandemic was not aproblem, according to an official translation. He insteadattacked drugs firms for making money off AIDS.

(Additional reporting by Manoah Esipisu)