For months Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has been looking forward to the first week in August. At that moment his standing in the world would be enhanced by his scheduled assumption of the chairmanship of the Organization of African Unity.
The organization is due to hold its yearly summit in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, Aug. 5-8. The head of government of the host state automatically becomes OAU chairman for a year.
But over the past six months, the holding of the summit has been increasingly in doubt. This is because Morocco - some observers say with United States backing - has been leading a campaign to prevent a quorum from assembling in Tripoli for the opening of the August meeting.
At issue is the status of the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial territory that Morocco has in effect annexed since Spanish withdrawal in 1976. The Polisario guerrilla movement politically and militarily challenges Moroccan acquisition of the region. Polisario is backed by Libya and Algeria.
Last February OAU Secretary-General Edem Kodjo of Togo admitted the Polisario's government-in-exile, the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), to OAU membership in a procedural move. No formal vote preceded Mr. Kodjo's move. His argument was that earlier OAU votes showed a majority of the organization's 50 members supported Polisario and the SADR.
Morocco was furious. It had agreed at the 1981 OAU summit to a cease-fire with Polisario guerrillas as a prelude to a referendum on the Western Sahara's future.
The Moroccan response to Mr. Kodjo's admission of the SADR to OAU membership has been a steady campaign to wreck this year's Tripoli summit - and Colonel Qaddafi's ambitions connected with it - by getting enough members to stay away to prevent the assembling of the needed two-thirds quorum. It looked as if the Moroccans might just succeed in doing this.
They were helped last week when President Milton Obote of Uganda accused Colonel Qaddafi of training Ugandans in Libya to overthrow the Obote regime.
But now in a shrewd apparent volte-face, King Hassan of Morocco has in effect proposed a deal with Colonel Qaddafi that would give the Libyan leader both his OAU summit and chairmanship - but at a price.
King Hassan has proposed that the Tripoli summit should go ahead as planned - without any SADR representation - and that the OAU should consider the question of the Western Sahara exhausted. In other words, Morocco would keep the Western Sahara without any further challenge to its sovereignty from within the OAU.
This presents Colonel Qaddafi with a hard choice. But many OAU members, including some who lean toward Polisario, are desperately anxious for a way out of an impasse that could conceivably wreck their organization.
The OAU has already been dealt one blow this year by the near-fiasco of its peace-keeping effort in Chad. Despite the peace-force presence, Chad rebel leader Hissein Habre drove President Goukhouni Woddei out of the country; Habre's forces control most of Chad.
The OAU's record has been modest since its establishment with the emergence of independent black Africa after World War II. But it remains important because it symbolizes the decision to spare black Africa Balkanization and chaos by accepting the national frontiers bequeathed by the departing colonial powers.