Col. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya seems to have irrevocably failed in his bid to become chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Diplomats and OAU sources in East Africa say the general consensus among African heads of state is that they can never get enough support for holding a summit in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Two attempts already have broken up in disarray.
Instead, the heads of state now are understood to want to try to hold the next summit in Addis Ababa, the OAU's headquarters. They hope a meeting in Ethiopia might attract enough heads of state to provide a quorum.
Failure, so far, to hold the annual OAU summit leaves last year's chairman, President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, starting an unprecedented second year at the OAU helm. It is a post Mr. Moi does not care to continue in, as Kenya's economic downturn is difficult enough to try to set aright.
Egypt's assistant foreign minister, Omran Shafei, is lobbying for a change of summit venue to Addis Ababa. ''There is a trend of thinking in Africa that the summit be held in Addis,'' he said this weekend in Nairobi. He is off to Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to press the case for a summit in Ethiopia.
Mr. Shafei said many Africans think the summit should be held before the so-called nonaligned nations stage their summit in New Delhi in early March. This would allow the Africans to go to the nonaligned meeting with a united voice.
A big date on the OAU calender is the organization's 20th anniversary in May. But no decision has been made about where to celebrate the event.
The failure of two attempts to hold the summit in Tripoli suggests it may be difficult to pull the OAU together again under any conditions.
The first meeting collapsed in August over the the admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, championed by Polisario guerrillas, as the representative of the Western Sahara. Many OAU members stayed away, and lack of a quorum forced the meeting to end.
The collapse of the second Tripoli meeting in November resulted from a dispute over whether the current Chad government of Hissein Habre or the ousted government of Goukhouni Woddei should represent Chad at the summit.