After 3 years, Gaddafi, Museveni kiss and make up

Three years after a major falling out between former allies Col Muammar Gaddafi and President Yoweri Museveni, the Libyan leader is making a grand return to Kampala, thanks to intense diplomatic manoeuvring to bring the estranged comrades back to the same table.

President Yoweri Museveni and his Libyan counterpart Muammar Gaddafi shake hands shortly after unveiling the plaque at the official opening of the Gaddafi National Mosque at Old Kampala in March, 2008. Photo/FILE 

BY HALIMA ABDALLAH

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Three years after a major falling out between former allies Col Muammar Gaddafi and President Yoweri Museveni, the Libyan leader is making a grand return to Kampala, thanks to intense diplomatic manoeuvring to bring the estranged comrades back to the same table.

Gaddafi will be attending the Fifteenth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Heads of State that starts on July 25.

Libya has already booked two hotels in Kampala to accommodate its delegation for two weeks starting July 16, further confirming the impending arrival of Gaddafi, who last visited Kampala in March 2008.

That visit ended abruptly when Gaddafi left Kampala in a huff in the wee hours of the morning, without even notifying his host as diplomatic etiquette required.

Speaking off the record, diplomatic sources said it has not been easy to reconcile the two men, known for their strong wills, but finally, pragmatism has prevailed and there is now an understanding that the two needed each other.

“It is in the interests of Libya to have a good relationship with Uganda because of Museveni’s profile in the region, while Uganda also needs Libya because of Gaddafi’s influence in the Mediterranean region, so it was only a matter of time before the two came back together,” observed one commentator.

Sources further say that although the thaw in relations was primarily a result of Museveni’s initiative, it is also being driven by an emerging respect for Uganda in Tripoli as the country joins the oil club.

The EastAfrican has learnt that there have been a series of behind-the-scenes attempts at rapprochement between the two leaders.

Junior Minister for Foreign Affiars Okello Oryem lent credence to the reports when he told this newspaper, “Uganda and Libya are back on talking terms and the relationship will blossom further. What happened in the past is behind us.”

Other meetings have taken place on the sidelines of major summits such as the AU summit in Addis Ababa late January and the UN General Assembly in New York last September.

Although the two leaders talked then, Gaddafi did not attend an African Union meeting on the status of refugees held in Kampala last October, even though he was the AU chair.

The New York meeting happened just a few days after violent clashes between Baganda loyalists and government forces that followed the cancellation of Buganda King Ronald Muwenda Mutebi’s visit to Kayunga district on the eastern flanks of his kingdom.

Media reports then quoted Museveni, saying he had intelligence reports that Buganda was receiving external support to undermine his government.

This statement was interpreted by many as a veiled reference to Gaddafi, the sole benefactor of the Forum of African Traditional Leaders, FATL, a body many political observers see as Gaddafi’s Trojan horse for a parallel continent-wide political body to rival the African Union.

Both Libya and the Buganda kingdom deny any relationship that goes beyond the activities of the FATL.

“It was speculation; the government was trying to find a scapegoat. We challenged it to prove that the kingdom received money from Libya but it has failed to produce any proof,” said Buganda kingdom Attorney General Apollo Makubuya.

In March 2008, while in Kampala for the official opening of the Gaddafi Mosque that he sponsored, Gaddafi visited Mengo, the headquarters of the Buganda kingdom.

It was reported that the government was unaware of the visit as it was not on his official schedule.

At that time, the kingdom was busy opposing the land rights amendment law that the government was sponsoring.

Until official confirmation last week that Gaddafi would be attending the summit — which itself came on the back of reports that he had attempted to buy out all the top hotel accommodation in Kampala — there had been speculation that he would once again stage a no-show in Kampala.

Gaddafi’s quarrel with Museveni goes back to the African Union meeting held in Accra, Ghana, in 2007.

At that summit, Museveni teamed up with former South African president Thabo Mbeki to shoot down his proposal for fast-tracking the proposed United States of Africa.

However, undeterred by the setback, Gaddafi shocked many when he hosted a forum of traditional leaders in August 2008 in Benghazi, which crowned him King of Kings.

That forum included participants from many of Uganda’s traditional kingdoms and chiefdoms, although the Buganda delegation is on record as deferring allegiance to Gaddafi.

The Benghazi meeting agreed to form an African government by last year and create a single currency and passport for the continent. None of this has come to pass.

On top of that, the traditional leaders agreed to continue meeting.

One such meeting, sponsored by Gaddafi, was slated for January last year in Kampala, but Uganda cancelled it at the last minute to the chagrin of the Libyan leader.

Libya protested against the cancellation, which only worsened the relationship.

Kampala interpreted that action as a direct affront by Gaddafi to Ugandan sovereignty since using diplomatic channels, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had urged Tripoli to call off the meeting.

Uganda argued that the objective of the meeting was at variance with Uganda’s constitution, which does not allow traditional leaders to participate in politics.

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