In the west, Colonel Gaddafi is no longer the pantomine villain he was throughout the 1980s and 1990s. His firm denunciation of al Qaeda after 9/11 and his willingness to open up Libya’s WMD programmes to international inspection brought Libya in from the diplomatic cold, and even earned the Libyan leader a visit from a senior western dignitary.
But in Africa, Gaddafi’s ability to wind up his fellow heads of state seems as strong as ever. Here in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, the political classes are up in arms over the Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution’s attempt to breathe new life into his moribund dream of creating a “United States of Africa”, following his recent election as chairman of the African Union (AU). Uganda’s President Museveni, formerly a staunch ally of the Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, emerged at the recent AU summit in Addis Ababa as one of the fiercest opponents of Gaddafi’s madcap plan, arguing instead for a strengthening of Africa’s alphabet soup of regional blocs.
But the spat may in fact have less to do with grandiose political schemes than with Gaddafi’s courting of Uganda’s traditional kings – leaders of ancestral kingdoms who are constitutionally barred from taking part in Ugandan politics, but who still yield great symbolic and cultural power, and whom Museveni deeply mistrusts. The Libyan leader seems to have decided that the road to African unity lies through its traditional leaders – and so last November generously invited 200 of them to Libya to crown him Africa’s “King of Kings”.
The title seems to have gone to his head, for this week Uganda’s excellent tabloids have reported that Gaddafi has been consorting with the Queen Mother of Tooro, a kingdom in western Uganda. Museveni, who is prickly about foreign leaders interfering in Uganda’s internal affairs at the best of times, is unlikely to have looked kindly upon such an egregious violation of protocol, and the two apparently had a heated exchange over the matter in Addis.
Does any of this matter? Well, most African states remain severely underdeveloped, and with the financial crisis likely to see western countries slashing aid budgets, they face a challenging couple of years. Gaddafi’s pointless “US Africa” grandstanding and Museveni’s…