Libya's Gaddafi turns attention to black AfricaSep 16, 1998
By Abdelaziz Barrouhi
TUNIS, Sept 17 (Reuters) - FEATURE - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, for long the self-appointed defender of the Arab nation, is turning his attention to black Africa. For many years Gaddafi, who took power in a coup that overthrew the monarchy in 1969, espoused Pan-Arabism, doctrinaire socialism and anti-western agitation financed by his country's oil wealth.
But Arab unity and pan-Arabism is no longer in official favour in Libya and has disappeared from state-run media, Tripoli residents contacted from Tunis say. State television news now longer carries a map of the "Arab Nation" on its backdrop-it has been replaced by the African continent.
Middle Eastern soap operas have disappeared from the television schedules, and have been replaced by programmes on black issues such as slavery.
The Foreign Ministry said this month the Pan-Arab Affairs Ministry, charged with promoting the unity of the Arab world, would be scrapped at the next session of the People's Congress, Libya's equivalent of a parliament.
ARAB NATIONALISM HAS FAILED, GADDAFI SAYS
In a U-turn, Gaddafi admits now that his ideology of Arab nationalism, inherited from late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, has failed.
"I had been crying slogans of Arab Unity and brandishing standard of Arab nationalism for 40 years, but it was not realised. That means that I was talking in the desert," Gaddafi told the Arab satellite television channel ANN this month. "I have no more time to lose talking with Arabs...I am returning back to realism...I now talk about Pan-Africanism and African Unity," he added.
"The Arab world is finished...Africa is a paradise...and it is full of natural resources like water, uranium, cobalt, iron, manganese," Gaddafi said in an apparent attempt to convince his compatriots.
"If Africa is a paradise, we would have heard about that much earlier. But as far as I know, Africa is better known for its ethnic wars, drought and starvation," one Libyan traveller in Tunis commented.
"If Gaddafi is serious in what he says, this would be a crucial shift in the history of the Arab world, because we would no more have an Arab state whose ideology is namely based on Pan-Arabism," a senior Arab diplomat based in Tripoli said.
"This might not be a bad thing for the Arab world because Gaddafi had been giving a wrong image to the external world about closer ties between Arabs," another North Africa-based diplomat said.
DIPLOMATS SAY SHIFT MIGHT BE TEMPORARY
"Gaddafi might be playing the game of bitterness ahead of an Arab League meeting in Cairo this week in which Tripoli might ask Arab states to violate the air embargo," a diplomat said. Heads of states and officials from the black African countries of Niger, Chad, Mali, the Central African Republic, Eritrea and Gambia flew to Libya this month despite the air ban.
An Organisation of African Unity (OAU) resolution passed in Ouagadougou last June recommended ignoring the embargo. But with the exception of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, no Arab heads of state came to Libya to celebrate the 29th anniversary of Gaddafi's coming to power.
"Poor (black African) countries had challenged the ban. North Africa's Arab states (Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania) that approved the Ouagadougou resolution didn't implement it. The blacks did," Gaddafi noted.
"I would like Libya to become a black country. Hence, I recommend to Libyan men to marry only black women, and to Libyan women to marry black men," Gaddafi said.