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Will Africa miss Qaddafi?

Even with Muammar Qaddafi's deep financial ties across Africa, many of the continent's leaders are ambivalent about his departure.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / August 23, 2011

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi arrives at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on Jan. 31, 2010.

Irada Humbatova/Reuters/File

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As the single-largest contributor to the budget of the African Union, a prime aid donor for poor African countries, and a dependable advocate for pan-African cooperation, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is a man whose impact reaches far beyond his country’s borders.

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That impact is sometimes good, as when he funds hospital or road projects, or when his estimated 15 percent contribution of the AU’s budget allows the AU to send peacekeepers to Somalia, Darfur, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. And it can be bad, when he buys weapons for rebel groups to destabilize his neighbors like Sudan and Chad.

Small wonder, then, that African leaders are reacting to Qaddafi’s imminent overthrow this week with a certain ambivalence.

“A lot of people took his money while not liking him, and being uneasy about him,” says Richard Moncrieff, a senior research fellow at the South African Institute for International Affairs in Johannesburg.

“Qaddafi’s donations have drawn the vast majority of Africans toward a kind of support for him during the past few months, and African leaders will give lip-service for his support because [he advocates] pan-Africanism. But they also realize that he’s a destabilizing figure at a broader continental level. There is profound ambivalence about Qaddafi the man," he says.

As Libyan rebels claim to have captured 90 percent of Libya’s capital Tripoli – including Qaddafi’s personal compound – the fall of Qaddafi’s government is all but certain. The impact of that change of government will be felt for weeks and months to come, as former friends and enemies lose either a source of financial support or cause of constant tension.

The greatest impact will be felt among the impoverished and fragile nations of the African Sahel region, the semi-arid countries that line the southern border of the Arabic-speaking countries of the North African Sahara.

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