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Amid Change In Libya, Africa Assesses Ties

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Libya's longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi bankrolled and championed the vision of a United States of Africa, with himself as the continental president. As Libya struggles to find its equilibrium on the cusp of what appears to be the post-Gadhafi era, one question is its future as part of Africa: The African Union has not officially recognized the rebel leadership in Libya, saying "regime change" and outside intervention were wrong and that NATO overstepped its U.N.-authorized no-fly-zone mandate.

South African President Jacob Zuma says continuing clashes are the reason the AU has not recognized the unelected rebel leaders in Libya. Zuma was the chief AU mediator during the rebellion and spoke after a recent AU summit.

"There is still fighting going on in Libya. Those are the facts. If there is fighting, there is fighting," he said. "So we can't therefore stand and say this is a legitimate [government] now."

More than a dozen African countries have unilaterally recognized Libya's rebel leadership, though not some of the continent's heavyweights or the AU. This has prompted a furious response from Libya's Transitional National Council.

"Gadhafi has always looked at the African Union as his own baby," says Guma El-Gamaty, the Libyan rebel representative in Britain.

El-Gamaty dismisses the AU's position as pro-Gadhafi. He told Al Jazeera's Inside Story that African leaders are missing the point if they choose not to ditch Gadhafi.

"Gadhafi has squandered billions and billions of Libyans' money trying to bribe many of the corrupt dictators in Africa, and that is partly what discredits the AU," he says, "and if some African countries are feeling sorry for Gadhafi, that's their problem. That's their right."

Political analyst Miguna Miguna says Africa cannot simply sweep away history and forget the pivotal role Gadhafi has played on the continent.

"Gadhafi funded all the main liberation movements in Africa. It's a fact. We can't change history," Miguna says. "He chose to be a pan-Africanist — that we will never take away from Gadhafi."

Gadhafi invested billions of Libya's oil dollars in Africa — in ventures ranging from gas stations to luxury hotels and telecommunications. He also built much-needed infrastructure and mosques.

He proclaimed himself Africa's "King of Kings" and, wrapped in colorful African clothing, surrounded himself with traditional chiefs at AU summits.

Gadhafi traveled around the continent, often by road, in a caravanserai, pitching his Bedouin tent and hosting sessions with students and others — always surrounded by his female bodyguards and praise singers.

He constantly harangued the West and urged Africans to stand up for themselves. Gadhafi was hailed and applauded by many Africans, especially the youth, as a hero and a saviour.

Critics say Gadhafi's divide and rule tactics were a cynical move he used to undermine and destabilize Africa, in a bid to control the continent. He meddled in Africa's rebellions, financing and training rival rebel groups.

At the same time, he used cash to play one African leader off another — splashing out with some and freezing out others. His influence in Africa was undeniable, but his ambitious United States of Africa project, with himself at the head of the union, failed.

Miguna warns that Libya's rebel leaders risk alienating the continent, not least because of the brutal treatment allegedly being meted out to black Africans whom Gadhafi recruited into his fighting forces. Many other African migrants — not hired guns — are also being targeted, Miguna says.

"Some of the statements I've heard from the transitional authority in Libya are worrying, in the sense that they sound very anti-African, anti-sub-Saharan African," Miguna says. "In other words, anti-black African, almost bordering racism, actually."

The AU too has expressed deep concern about the plight of black Africans being mistaken for Gadhafi's fighters in Libya. Jean Ping, who heads the AU commission, says the TNC must beware.

"TNC seems to confuse black people with mercenaries," Ping says. "If you do that, [it] means one-third of the population in Libya, which is black, is also mercenaries."

On future Libya-Africa relations, political commentator Miguna says the new leaders must be pragmatic and remember that, geographically, Libya is in Africa — even though geopolitically it may be allied to the Arab world.

He argues that "for an authority that has not established itself in power, I hope they tone down and I hope that they realize that they are African and the relationship with Africa is not one they can sever."

Miguna acknowledges, though, the AU may indeed find itself on the wrong side of history.

"The reality is, Gadhafi did not want to leave and the African Union did not have the fortitude to tell him to leave — and the U.N. did," Miguna says.

He has a warning for some of the continent's leaders.

"African dictators should be watching Libya, Egypt and Tunisia very keenly," Miguna says. "These dictators should be shaking in their boots because their time is up."

He says the Arab Spring is spreading.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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