Libyan Leader Takes Center Stage at CEN-SAD Summit in BeninBy Nico Colombant
18 June 2008

Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi has taken center stage at a summit of Sahel and Sahara states in Benin, but local commentators say they are getting tired of his act. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Leaders of CEN-SAD gathered in Cotonou
Folk musicians from the south-east of Benin played for dignitaries at the 10th summit of the Community of Sahelo-Saharan states, known as CEN-SAD, but it was Muammar Gaddafi who was the star of the event.

Speaking through a French translator, the Libyan president railed against other African organizations including the continent-wide African Union, saying it was not accomplishing anything. He said the decisions of the African Union had no effect.

He also said there were too many smaller regional African organizations, saying this allowed outsiders to divide and control the continent. He also said summits just made it possible for African leaders to go to fancy hotels, while civil strife continued unabated.

Libyan leader Gaddafi railed against other groups
During his speech, he also lashed out against the French-proposed Mediterranean Union to link Europe with six countries of North Africa, saying this too would divide Africa.

CEN-SAD, which was created in 1998, has its headquarters in Tripoli. The Libyan leader said it is the only successful African organization.

The main theme of the summit was tackling food security, but Beninese commentator Eguedji Gaston says this was overshadowed by whatever the Libyan leader was saying.

He says it seems it was a summit to make leaders "more comfortable in their plush seats." He says the Libyan leader likes CEN-SAD because he is in control.

Gaston believes President Gaddafi lost some of the limelight when he sorted out his problems with the United States, so he has turned to African unity under his leadership as a new pursuit. He says money that is sent from Libya helps African countries build new buildings, but that Africa needs more than buildings.

A Cotonou journalist, Ehoumi Guy Constant, was even angrier, accusing the Libyan president of creating more divisions.

"I know that this summit in Cotonou is of no use. Because, I do not know why people are used to create summit, to create organizations, instead of staying in unity. We know that we have AU [African Union]," said Constant. "People are supposed to back it and do everything in order to have only one union together to go forward in all the negotiations."

CEN-SAD accepted new members during this summit, Kenya, Mauritania and Sao Tome, bringing its membership to 28 countries, most of which are in West Africa.

Constant says some heavyweight countries are missing.

"South Africa is not here. Gabon is not here. All those people are the powerful in Africa so I do not know why there is CEN-SAD. I do not think that is something to go forward, but the man has money. He is looking forward to a big, big, one-man show. That is what I noticed throughout this CEN-SAD summit in Cotonou," said Constant.

Promises were also made. The Libyan leader said he would allocate three billion dollars to the CEN-SAD bank to finance roads and bridges. He said whoever wants to benefit from Libya's oil riches should join.

After talks between Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and Ivorian peace mediator, Bukina Faso President Blaise Compaore, the Libyan leader said he was also ready to finance part of the cost for disarming northern Ivorian rebels and southern militias.

At the onset of the Ivorian war, Mr. Gbagbo had accused Burkina Faso and Libya of financing the rebels, something the two countries denied.

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