Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

African Union during Gaddafi

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (C) speaks during a press conference on November 25, 1973, at the Hilton hotel in Paris after a meeting with French President Georges Pompidou for discussions. (Photo by – / AFP)

Because the Libyan national identity was weak when Gaddafi took over and because he and his close supporters were enthusiasts of Arab nationalism, Gaddafi repeatedly tried to create unions between Libya and other countries. Brief theoretical unions were set up with Egypt and Syria (1971, Federation of Arab Republics); Sudan; Tunisia (1974, Arab Islamic Republic); Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritania (1989, Arab Maghreb Union, a planned free-trade bloc).

All these attempted unions came to nothing, and, in frustration, Gaddafi adopted an activist policy in sub-Saharan Africa. He supported Idi Amin in Uganda, Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Empire, and liberation movements in Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, and South Africa. In the 1980s, Libya supported rebel leaders such as Foday Sankoh of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone and Charles Taylor of Liberia’s National Patriotic Front. Taylor and Sankoh received military training in Libya and succeeded in overthrowing the incumbent governments of their countries. More generally, Gaddafi tried to increase Libyan influence in sub-Saharan Africa through missionary work by promoting Islam through the Islamic Call Society. Libya paid for development aid to African governments to improve infrastructure, agriculture, and drinking water. African students received scholarships to study in Libya.

In 2002 Gaddafi helped set up the African Union to replace the Organization of African unity. In 2007 and 2009, when he was chairman of the African Union, Gaddafi proposed establishing the Pan-African United States of Africa. In 2008 a meeting of more than 200 African kings and traditional rulers in Benghazi crowned him ‘king of kings’ of Africa.