Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ban hits at AU over coups as Gaddafi finally hands over

ETHIOPIA, Addis Ababa : Libyan leader and outgoing African Union (AU) Chaiman of the AU Moamer Kadhafi arrives on January 31, 2010 for the start of the three-day AU summit in Addis Ababa. Kadhafi reluctantly handed over the presidency of the AU to Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika. AFP PHOTO/ SIMON MAINA

Libyan leader and outgoing African Union (AU) Chaiman of the AU Muammar Gaddafi arrives on January 31, 2010 for the start of the three-day AU summit in Addis Ababa. Gaddafi reluctantly handed over the presidency of the AU to Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika. AFP PHOTO/ SIMON MAINA 

By ARGAW ASHINE NATION Correspondent

ADDIS ABABA

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon on Sunday criticised power-grabs in Africa in a speech to the continent’s leaders as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi reluctantly handed over the presidency of the African Union to Malawi.

The build-up to the three-day AU summit in Addis Ababa had been dominated by the expectation that Gaddafi would try to extend his 12-month tenure as head of the 53-member body.

On the first day of a summit in Addis Ababa, Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika was selected to succeed Gaddafi, even though diplomats said Gaddafi was seeking another term.

The Libyan leader used his farewell speech to again urge African leaders to begin the process of political unification, which was a large part of his agenda during his chairmanship.

He also criticised the AU for “tiring” him with long meetings and making declarations and reports without asking him.

“It was like we were building a new atomic bomb or something,” he said, referring to meetings that had lasted long into the night and that he characterised as “really useless”.

“The world’s engine is turning into 7 or 10 countries and we are not aware of that,” Gaddafi said, dressed in a white robe and black fur hat.

“The EU is becoming one country and we are not aware of it. We have to get united to be united. Let’s be united today.”

An African unity government is a goal of the AU’s founding charter goal and Gaddafi, supported by leaders like Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade, has been pushing for union for years, saying it is the only way Africa can develop without Western interference.

But members, led by South Africa and Ethiopia, argue the plan is impractical and would infringe on sovereignty.

The Malawian leader promised to make battling hunger a top priority.

“Africa is not a poor continent but the people of Africa are poor,” wa Mutharika said. “Achieving food security at the African level should be able to address the problem.”

In recent years, Malawi has enjoyed bumper harvests following the introduction of a fertiliser and seed subsidy programme.

Although leaders fought over who would be chairman, they agreed on the need to support leaders of transitional governments in Somalia, Guinea and Sudan, and for tough action against feuding politicians ignoring AU directives in Madagascar.

The chairman of the AU commission, Jean Ping, said there would be unspecified consequences for parties that go it alone in resolving Madagascar’s year-long political crisis. They have been given 15 days to respond to AU power-sharing proposals.

Mr Ban said the United Nations also would continue to provide financial support to AU peacekeepers in anarchic Somalia, as the conflict has a “direct bearing on global security”.

An AU peacekeeping force of 5,000 -- provided by Burundi and Uganda — is struggling to hold back Islamist rebels in Somalia. The AU has repeatedly asked for UN peacekeepers to bolster its efforts but has only been given funding.

The veteran Libyan leader’s presidency of the body has been marked by his efforts to promote his vision of a “United States of Africa” — a project that has made little progress during his 12 months in charge.

It has also prompted awkward questions about the continent’s commitment to democracy, given the absence of free elections in Libya ever since Gaddafi took power in a bloodless coup in 1969.

Mr Ban expressed concern about what he called a recent resurgence of “unconstitutional” power changes in Africa and rapped attempts by incumbents to change the law in order to help them stay in office.

“The resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government in Africa is a matter of serious concern,” said Mr Ban, the United Nations secretary general.

“We must also guard against the manipulation of established processes to retain power.”

In an interview with AFP yesterday, Mr Ban put particular emphasis on the fate of Sudan, where tension has been mounting in the run-up to a 2011 referendum in which the south is widely expected to choose independence from Khartoum, only six years after signing a peace deal.

He called the situation prevailing in the western Sudanese province of Darfur “a serious situation which reflects and exposes our limitations”.

“The UN has a big responsibility with the AU to maintain peace in Sudan and make unity attractive... ‘‘This year will be crucially important for Sudan with the election in three months and the referendum in a year,” he said.  

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