Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is hosting an African summit in
conjunction with celebrations marking the anniversary of the military
coup that brought him to power 40 years ago. Many
leaders are approaching the gathering with mixed emotions.
Mr. Gadhafi is using his position as this year's chairman of the African Union to bring the continent's leaders to Tripoli, ostensibly for talks on conflict resolution. The head of the AU Conflict Management Division, El-Ghassim Wane says Mr. Gadhafi floated the idea at the last African summit, which was also held in Libya less than two months ago.
"The chair of the union made a proposal to hold a special session on conflict situations in Africa given the many crises our continent is facing, and the proposal was welcomed by the other heads of state, and they agreed to meet in Tripoli on the 31st of August to review the conflict situations on the continent," said Wane.
The summit agenda touches what are considered Africa's three major conflict hotspots, Darfur, Somalia and the Great Lakes region, including the Democratic Republic of Congo. The summit sidelines will also feature meetings on how much Africa should demand in compensation from developed countries at the Copenhagen climate summit in December.
It was no coincidence that this special summit is scheduled at the same time as the gala celebration of the bloodless coup on September first, 1969 in which the 27-year Colonel Gadhafi seized power. He is now Africa's longest serving leader, a throwback to the era when the continent was run largely by military strongmen.
Organizers had expected the event to draw a number of top rank world leaders. But given the international outrage at the hero's welcome given to the man convicted of the Lockerbie airliner bombing, many leaders are suddenly busy.
Word had been spread that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would be there. But the French news agency Friday denied that Mr. Sarkozy would attend, and Russia's Interfax news agency said both Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin had other engagements.
The United States had planned to send a diplomatic observer to the summit, but the Obama administration this week quietly canceled its participation. A US diplomat who asked not to be identified because she is not authorized to speak said the event would be monitored by staff at the Tripoli embassy.
The attendance of some of Africa's top leaders at the celebration is also in doubt. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who is bidding to be the continent's representative at the Copenhagen climate summit, has scheduled important meetings in Addis Ababa Monday. Zimbabwe's 85-year old President Robert Mugabe, who has a nearly perfect record of attending AU summits, is rumored to be ailing.
Instead, the guest list is likely to be headed by such figures as Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
The Gadhafi anniversary observance will undoubtedly overshadow the ostensible summit theme of conflict resolution. The AU's El Ghassim Wane says the gathering is intended to make a strong show of support for Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, and to recognize the recent gains his Transitional Federal Government has made against foreign-backed rebel forces.
"Over the past few years, the TFG forces have performed rather well on the ground," he said. "What we'll be looking at in Tripoli will be to see how to mobilize further support to increase capacity of Somali security institutions but also to strengthen the AU presence on the ground and more generally the involvement of the international community in support of Somalia."
Wane says the discussion on Darfur is expected to be similar.
"Of course it remains very precarious but there are far less incidents today than there were some months and years ago," he said. "But at the same time we know the only sustainable solution to Darfur is to find a political solution."
Several African and western diplomats say they would not rule out a grand announcement on the security front during the summit, given leader Gadhafi's flair for the dramatic. But they agree that real breakthroughs would be highly unlikely, if not impossible on such longstanding conflicts as those in Darfur, Somalia and the Great Lakes.