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All the Colonel’s Kings

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Just a day after an international coalition began bombing targets in Libya, an African Union (AU) delegation tried to fly to Tripoli to mediate between Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and rebel opposition leaders. The group, which included five African heads of state, said that both the Libyan leader and his opponents were ready to negotiate. But the plane never landed. On March 17, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that imposed a no fly zone over the country, now enforced by the United States, France, and Britain. The AU's attempt to bring an African solution to an African problem was cut short.

Qaddafi certainly is an African problem. During the four decades that he has governed Libya, Qaddafi has entrenched himself as a dominant political force across the continent. Many an aspiring politician has sought his support; many a rebel movement has turned to him for weapons and training. African heads of state have gone to great pains to maintain good relations with the colonel knowing that to do otherwise might mean Qaddafi's next protégé rebel movement could crop up in their country. Which is why, even as the rest of the world has written off Qaddafi as a maniacal loon, the Libyan leader still has friends in Africa.

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Nowhere is Qaddafi's influence more clear than in the African Union. In helping to establish the group , of which he was elected rotating president in 2009, Qaddafi's primary goal was to realize a long-time dream: the United States of Africa, a political union that he almost certainly envisioned himself running.

Pictured above, Qaddafi listens to a speech by Chadian President Idriss Déby on Aug. 8, 2006, alongside al-Bashir, Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbazogo, Gabon's former President Omar Bongo Ondimba, and Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

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