Home | News    Thursday 26 February 2004

African foreign ministers discuss Gadhafi proposal to form united African army, amid doubts of feasibility in the short term

By MAGGIE MICHAEL Associated Press Writer

SIRTE, Libya, Feb 26, 2004 (AP) — Foreign ministers and delegates from more than 50 African states showed more skepticism than enthusiasm Thursday for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s idea of creating a single African army to defend the continent.

Convening on the eve of a pan-African summit, Libyan officials touted the proposal as "a progressive idea," but delegates from other nations cautioned that it needed a lot of research. They questioned how the continent could unite militarily if it cannot unite politically.

The idea of forming a single African army was broached in July 2002 during the first summit of the African Union, which replaced the 39-year-old Organization of African Unity. The OAU was widely criticized for doing little to prevent African despots from plundering their countries and oppressing their people.

The young African Union aspires to be more effective, but it labors under financial constraints, including a US$40 million debt inherited from the OAU.

Gadhafi first proposed the single continental army at the 2002 summit in Durban, South Africa. He renewed his proposal three days ago at a meeting of African defense ministers.

The Libyan foreign minister, Abdel Rahman Shalqam, took up the cause Thursday on the sidelines of preparatory meetings for the two-day summit that opens Friday.

"This is a progressive idea," Shalqam said. "If we had said in the past that we are going to connect the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea (by digging) the Suez Canal, nobody would have believed us. But big ideas start like that."

He added: "Africa needs US$15 million every year for its military forces. To do what? To fight each other."

Africa is one of the most troubled regions in the world. Devastating local wars, including those in Sudan, Congo, the Ivory Coast and Liberia, fueled the idea of having some kind of regional security force that could stay aloof from internal wars and help bring peace.

A senior African diplomat, speaking on condition neither he nor his country were identified, said the formation of a united army is a long-term project and requires more cooperation than currently exists on the continent.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told an Associated Press reporter that a united African army was "a worthy cause." But he cautioned it would "take a lot of research and time and we shouldn’t rush things."

After the African Union summit opens Friday under the chairmanship of Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, members are expected to finalize a "peace and security protocol" that would allow for an exchange of information and strategies to combat criminal activity and political instability on the continent.