Political pundits and academicians were last week trying to make sense of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi’s latest game plan, after he had himself crowned “King of Kings” by a section of African traditional leaders, sultans, sheiks and mayors from Muslim North Africa during ceremonies in Benghazi at the end of August.
Dubbed the Forum of African Traditional Leaders, which will be meeting every September 9 in Sirte (Gaddafi’s birthplace), the event, which is also being touted as a precursor to an African government to be launched next year, attracted more than 500 cultural leaders.
Quoting a communiqué issued after the event, Uganda’s Muslim-leaning newspaper, The Weekly Message, reported in its most recent edition that Gaddafi was crowned King of Kings in recognition of his role in liberating Africa from colonialism and his frontline role in pushing for African unity.
Among issues agreed during the forum was the creation of a government of the African Union next year and the issuance of a single currency and passport for the continent.
The proposed African Union government is to be formed subject to the inclusion of sitting ministers of foreign affairs, defence, external trade, transport and communication from AU member states.
But coming just over a year after Gaddafi’s push for an African political union headed by a president met resistance from African presidents at their last meeting in Abuja, the maverick leader’s latest adventure is being seen as an attempt to create a parallel track that would bring him closer to his goal of being Africa’s first continental president.
The sitting also elected Gaddafi, who gave his guests gifts that included Rado watches and African traditional garb, as the forum’s chairman.
Ugandan officials were quick to underplay the development, describing it as neutral to Uganda-Libya relations, but academicians were warning that given the Libyan leader’s past record, his newfound alliance with traditional leaders had the potential to degenerate into a new wave of secular fundamentalism that could be a source of instability, as ambitious cultural leaders jostle for power with republicans.
Uganda’s Junior Foreign Minister in charge of International Co-operation, Okello Oryem, said that Gaddafi’s “crowning” should have no negative impact on the ties between the two countries because “our diplomatic relations are determined by the level of interaction. The lower the interactions, the lower the relationship but generally speaking, our relationship is very cordial and at a high level,” he said.
But Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a senior lecturer at Makerere University’s Department of History and Development Studies, said though Gaddafi’s latest adventure may indeed not turn out to be much of a threat, it could still create a nuisance.
Mr Ndebesa said Gaddafi had a history of destabilising his neighbours and as such his current actions should be viewed with some caution.
“I don’t see any possibility of ideological convergence between Gaddafi and the traditionalists, but he can still cause some trouble here and there by whipping up the appetite of some radical traditional elements,” Mr Ndebesa said, adding that the Libyan leader had always been a contradictory figure, a man who overthrew a monarchy but was now allying with traditionalists.
Libyan forces also supported Idi Amin’s regime against Tanzanian-led liberation forces that included President Museveni’s Front for National Salvation — but, years later, he contributed arms to Museveni’s guerrilla campaign against Ugandan government forces.
Gaddafi’s surprising love affair with monarchies was first manifested during a 1996 visit to Uganda, when he developed an interest in the then infant King of Toro, for whom he built a turnkey palace.
Later, he sponsored the young king and his sister’s education and the duo, accompanied by their mother, Queen Best Kemigisha, have made a number of extended visits to Libya.
The Toro delegation to the Benghazi meeting travelled and returned aboard a private jet paid for by Gaddafi.
In all, 34 traditional leaders from Uganda, including two kings — Solomon Gafabusa Iguru of Bunyoro and Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru of Toro — attended the Benghazi proceedings.
There was also a delegation from the Kingdom of Buganda, the Paramaount Chiefs of Acholi and Lango in northern Uganda as well as the Emorimor of Teso.
But cracks were already appearing in the forum even before the ink had dried on the Benghazi protocols.
With the exception of Toro and Bunyoro, the other Ugandan cultural leaders distanced themselves from ever endorsing the Libyan leader as some kind of supreme African ruler.
At the meeting, the Buganda delegation went on record as telling the gathering that it was against their culture and norms to recognise a monarch other than their own king.
Equally, the Paramount Chiefs of Acholi and Lango were vehement in their denials that they were party to an agreement that endorsed Gaddafi as King of Kings.
“No, we did not do that. The Arabs might have elected him, but we did not sign anything to make him King of Kings.
You can call the Acholi Paramount Chief and confirm this. How could we do such a thing?” Yosum Odur Won-Nyaci, Paramount Chief of Lango, said when The EastAfrican called him.
Acholi Paramount Chief David Onen Acana said that it appeared to have been a calculated move to advance Gaddafi’s ambitions because while most delegations from East Africa were in Libya for the first time, their counterparts from West and North Africa appeared to have been there on a follow-up meeting and all what happened was symbolic.
“We were all taken by surprise. According to me, he is not really a king in any sense. Gaddafi is pursuing a social angle to achieve his goals of having one Africa. He wanted to expand the issues to cultural leaders to work with politicians to speed up the unity of Africa,” Acana said.
Although nobody gave it much thought at the time, Gaddafi’s grandiose scheme first came to the attention of Ugandans in early September, when he signed off as “King of Kings” a condolence message he sent to President Museveni upon the death of the Kyabazinga of Busoga, Henry Wako Muloki.
But the King of Kings of 2008 is the very man who overthrew King Idris I in 1969, abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the country the Libyan Arab Republic.
The Ugandan kings who spoke to The East African said that Gaddafi explained to them the need for African unity and urged them to mobilise their people to support the cause. They said Gaddafi told them that the African president would rule for only three years.
The kings said they told Gaddafi they had no powers and that electing an African president is a political issue that the head of states and other politicians must decide upon.
One view is that, flush with dollars from the recent boom in oil prices, Gaddafi has started on a new round of political adventurism. Mr Ndebesa said the Libyan leader is reversing the process of democratisation, whereas the African Union should be run on the principles of democracy.
The idea of supporting and using monarchs who are conservatives to pursue his ideology raises questions as to whether he is creating a parallel African Union structure.
Mr Ndebesa added that the possibility that any of these monarchs could become a threat to their governments cannot be ruled out if Gaddafi’s support helps make them financially independent.
This is not the first time Gaddafi is attempting to create a unified nation. In 1972, he proclaimed the Federation of Arab Republics, hoping to create a pan-Arab state.
The deputy chairman of the Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly, Imam Kasozi, who is also a lecturer at the Islamic University in Uganda, had some advice for Gaddafi:
“If he overthrew a king, how does he now turn around and call himself King of Kings? He wants to be in power for eternity, but it does not work like that.
Reported by Michael Wakabi and Halima Abdallah K