- By Elizabeth DickinsonElizabeth Dickinson is a Gulf-based Deca journalist.
Anyone who follows Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi knows that today is a big, big day for the man once called the “Mad Dog of the Middle East.” After decades of proclaiming himself leader of the African continent, he was elected year-long Chairman of the African Union today in Addis Ababa.
It’s not as if the title came unexpectedly. North Africa was up for the regionally rotating seat. So beginning last summer, Qaddafi crowned himself “king of kings,” quite literally by inviting 200 traditional rulers to Libya so that they might elect him. He arrived at the AU summit with seven more well-dressed kings by his side (turns out they didn’t make the guest list and weren’t allowed in). And once inside, Qaddafi is said to have circulated a letter with a simple message: I am king of kings, and I expect to be treated like one. No big shocker when the closed door vote put Qaddafi at the reigns.
Keeping up with Qaddafi’s eccentricities is certainly an engaging pastime. But the big news is actually that he might be good at the job. The Libyan leader garners a lot of respect where it is most needed these days. In Zimbabwe, Qaddafi’s credibility as a leader who has ‘stood up’ to the West and supported anti-apartheid in South Africa could at least win him an audience (and some sway — should he use it) with Mugabe. Likewise, Qaddafi could do some good in Somalia where a newly elected moderate-Muslim President, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, desperately needs help holding together a weak government. Qaddafi has the oil money and religious credentials to push the right ways.
On his way out, former AU chairman Jakaya Kikwete proposed creating a budget for Qaddafi to travel the continent fixing spats. Not that Qaddafi has ever needed an invitation to be in charge. Hope the budget is high. Brother Leader likes to travel in style.