By Okey Nderibe, who was in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia
The recent meeting of African Heads of State and GovernmentÂ in Ethiopian where the LibyanÂ leader, Moammer Ghaddafi, stepped down as African Union (AU) chairman was full of diplomatic manouvres.
Last monthâ€™s 14thÂ Â Assembly of African Heads of State and GovernmentÂ which took placeÂ inÂ Addis-Ababa, the capitalÂ ofÂ Ethiopia, was characterized by high drama.
However, the most visible of theÂ dramatic incidents was the decisionÂ ofÂ Libyan leaderÂ and immediate past chairman of the continentalÂ body,Â Col. Moammer Ghaddafi,Â to suddenly amend the programme for the opening ceremony of the summit by inviting some traditional rulers to address the Assembly of African leaders.
The two representatives of African monarchs, who were simply introduced as representatives of the kings and princes of Africa by Ghaddafi,Â wereÂ dressed in heavy traditional African regalia.
The representatives of AfricanÂ kings and princesÂ toldÂ leaders of the continentÂ that theÂ Association of Kings and Princes of Africa was established by Gaddafi for the pursuit of peace in the continent,Â stressing that the group was not interested in politics.
He said the group had alreadyÂ contributed in the promotion of peace in Africa citingÂ the role played by the associationÂ in restoring peace in Cote Dâ€™Ivoire as example ofÂ the role the group could play in conflictÂ situations across the continent. He maintained that Africa could only grow through promotion of the continentâ€™s culture.
Referring to Gaddafi whom he described as â€œ King of Kings of Africaâ€ theÂ spokesperson for African monarchs thanked Gaddafi for giving the group recognition during his tenure as chairperson of the African Union.
He reminded African leaders thatÂ manyÂ of the continentâ€™s member states would soon mark their 50th anniversaryÂ as independent nations adding that this was a period forÂ stock-taking and evaluation for the continent.
He also praised Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as another African leader who had recognised the groupâ€™s role as important in the continent. He maintained that there was need for African leaders to change their attitude towards the traditional institutions in their various countries,Â adding that â€œ although African traditional rulers of the past era did not have good western education, there are traditional rulers in the continent today who are intellectualsâ€.
In his own speech earlier, GadaffiÂ warned thatÂ AfricaÂ faced theÂ danger of beingÂ re-colonisedÂ ifÂ the continent did not unite.Â HeÂ also expressed disappointment over the intrigues and manoeuvres that characterizedÂ the election ofÂ his successor as leader of the continental body.
Gaddafiâ€™s proposal to go for a second term (backed by Tunisia, some Western and Central African countries) had caused a stir particularly amongst Southern African nations who had nominated the MalawianÂ president to succeed Gaddafi.
The chairmanship for the continental body rotates each year onÂ Â regional basis and the 14th member Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) had been challenged by Tunisiaâ€™s proposal that Libyaâ€™s term be extended.
Some member states had expressed fear that the move might split theÂ union into twoÂ camps;Â those for Tunisiaâ€™s proposal and those who argued that the AU should respect its own rules and regulations. GaddafiÂ had, in his remark before stepping down, called for a strong and established new mechanism for African Union that will build the United States of Africa militarily, economically, socially and culturally.
â€œWe are aÂ very rich continent, we have huge potentials, we have human resources but the challenges are also there unfortunately.Â They are huge but we have to be together otherwise we will be colonised againâ€, the Libyan leader said.
He continued: â€œWe have three powers whose names I will not mention. But theyÂ are competing over Africa be it economically or by exploiting our resources or even militarily.Â Therefore we have to be aware of that. Any vacuum or void in Africa will be beneficial to themâ€.
Apparently to make it knownÂ that he did not need the AUÂ platform to continue to lead and contribute to the contigent, the Libyan leader said his country will host the Afro-Arab Summit in LibyaÂ this month and LibyaÂ will head theÂ bodyÂ for one year,Â adding that there will be other summits beforeÂ the end of the year.
Indications that something was amiss within the continental body became obvious when the Assembly of Heads of StateÂ and Government,Â which was supposed to kick off at 9Â in the morning,Â was delayed for closed to two hours.
The initialÂ programme had indicated that the opening session was to end by 9.30 am.
TheÂ programme had alsoÂ indicated that immediately after the opening ceremony,Â Heads of StateÂ wouldÂ move toÂ the lobby of the United Nations Conference CentreÂ -where the conference was supposed to hold for the launch of the African Union flag. The next item on the agendaÂ was supposed to be taking of group photographs and then the inauguration of the Exhibition on Information and Communication Technology.
The second session of the meetingÂ of the Assembly ofÂ Heads of StateÂ was supposed to be a closed door session which ought to begin by 9.30 am and end by 10.Â Then Heads of State andÂ GovernmentÂ were supposed to proceed to Committee room one for consultation and the composition of the Communique Drafting Committee. But for reasons that were not explained, the entire programme changed.
Apparently to prevent journalists from observingÂ what was going on, they were denied access toÂ the press gallery for close to an hour. Later, the press men were allowed into the gallery butÂ hardly had theyÂ sat down thanÂ they were ordered out again by Ethiopian Security Service personnel. The crowd of journalists were asked to relocateÂ to another hall. They were left there for a while before information trickled in that other journalists had began assembling at the entrance to the gallery.
Indeed, there appeared a strong determination on the part of theÂ security personnel- who were in-charge of security at the United Nations Economic Commission for African ( UNECA) buildingÂ venue of the summit- to frustrate journalists from covering the event byÂ wearingÂ them out. They were kept waiting for about one hour without seats.Â But the journalists too were prepared to endure.