Qaddafi's new role: peacemaker
Critics accuse him of meddling in other nations, but the Africanleaders he helps pay him homage.
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"Even when it is uncomfortable with Qaddafi," says the Asian diplomat, "they must live with him."Skip to next paragraph
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Qaddafi also went to the annual Organization of African Unity summit in Algiers in July, for the first time since 1977. But two weeks ago, he presided over a special summit in Tripoli, which considered changes to the charter that would support Qaddafi's proposed "United States of Africa."
Another proposal is an OAU conflict resolution center - to be based in Libya.
Still, for many, the image of Qaddafi as a peacemaker is unrealistic. Years of supporting African rebel and liberation groups were often seen as unwanted outside meddling in local African affairs, and just anti-West measures. Not everyone is convinced that Qaddafi is a true man of peace.
"I can't see [Qaddafi] as a peacemaker - what is behind him?" asks one senior Western diplomat. "It's all money. He has no troops to send anywhere, because he needs them to guard himself. He has a 'parade' army."
Still, years of Libyan largesse seem to be yielding diplomatic fruit. There is a Libya cultural center in the West African state of Burkina Faso and one in neighboring Chad - where Qaddafi's military support of rebels in the 1980s was no match for the French-backed government.
And lip-service underscores deep gratitude. Qaddafi supported the government of Idi Amin in Uganda against a 1979 invasion from Tanzania that was partly led by Yoweri Museveni. Libya's 1,500 troops, though, fled after several humiliating defeats, and Amin fled to Libya. But Qaddafi later backed Mr. Museveni in his bid to oust dictator Milton Obote, and in 1986 declared Museveni's victory a "great triumph of the Libyan people."
A videotape shows Qaddafi asking the guerrilla leader: "What arms can we send you? Can we send you tanks?" Museveni replied that he needed anything he could get.
Relations with Zimbabwe were almost as close, and President Mugabe repaid the favor last year by calling for "unjust" United Nations sanctions against Libya to be lifted "now, now, now."
"Yes, there is gratitude in Africa," says Richard Cornwell of the South African Institute for Security Studies. He says Qaddafi receives a hero's welcome when he visits because he backed the African National Congress against the apartheid regime. "This is the popular view of history, but more discerning minds have reasons to be weary of him. He is, to put it politely, mercurial."
But few have paid such strong respects as Mr. Mandela, South Africa's archetypal peacemaker. Calling the Libyan leader "brother Qaddafi" during a visit of President Clinton to Cape Town in March 1998, he defended South Africa's close ties with Libya, Cuba, and Iran."We should not abandon those who helped us in the darkest hour in the history of this country," he said. "They gave us the resources for us to conduct the struggle and to win." As for South African critics, Mandela said, "literally they can go and jump in a pool."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society