The just completed African Union summit in Addis Ababa was partly a celebration of the continent's achievements, and partly a reminder of how deeply it remains troubled by wars, poverty and flawed leadership.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended the African Union summit, as did the heads of international financial institutions and as many as 25 other heads of state and government. But they were all upstaged by the golden-robed Libyan leader Moamar Gadhafi, hailed by supporters as 'the king of kings' as he was sworn in as AU chairman for the coming year.
The opening sessions were all business, presided over by the outgoing chairman, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete in his finely tailored suit. He was the third consecutive AU leader from a country where the government is chosen through elections.
Lukewarm reception for Colonel Gadhafi
The tone changed half way through the second day, when President Kikwete gave way to Libya's ruler. In contrast to the packed hall during the earlier business sessions, the room was half empty, with only a handful of heads of state on hand as Mr. Gadhafi turned the floor over to the tribal kings in native dress he had brought with him.
Delegates at this summit reacted cautiously to Mr. Gadhafi's election. When asked for her reaction, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said , 'I have accepted it". Other leaders made a silent statement by staying home, making this one of the most poorly attended summits since the organization began.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Gadhafi sharply criticized racism in the United States, America's role in creating the world financial crisis, the plight of Palestinians in Gaza and the failure of democracy in Africa, which he blamed for the recent rise in military coups.
Speaking in Arabic through an interpreter, Mr. Gadhafi said in his Green Book, a collection of thoughts published in 1988, he had predicted the election of a black president in the United States.
"But the Green Book says after analysis, after all various conditions that black people will prevail over the world, and today Obama, the Kenyan son has imposed himself in the United States of America, defying openly. It was a kind of challenge against this despicable attitude toward the black population, the looting of African wealth and the looting and pillaging of the continent," he said.
Later, in answer to a reporter's question, the Libyan leader railed against multi-party democracy, calling it an imported system that has brought nothing but chaos to Africa.
"Finally there was multi-partyism, but this new method, which is imported, is now faced with many challenges. Unfortunately we have seen coup d'etats and rebellions are showing back their ugly heads. After elections, there are massacres as it happened in Kenya. Also results of elections are made public then followed by rebellion, a president is elected and a revolt follows and a coup d'etat takes place, a rebellion and so on," said the Libyan leader.
AU cautious on continental government
There were few heads of state in the room to hear Mr. Gadhafi's speech. The summit had been extended an extra day because of a standoff between the Libyan leader and most other delegations over his plan to create a union government, and most presidents and prime ministers had gone home by the time the closing ceremonies were held.
In the end, this was Mr. Gadhafi's summit, and he insisted he is pushing ahead with his plans. It was left to Africa's chief diplomat, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping to explain to reporters that, despite what Mr. Gadhafi may say, his dream of a continent-wide government will not be coming true any time soon.