Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika was chosen to succeed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at the helm of the rotating African Union presidency on the first day of the group's summit in Addis Ababa on Sunday.
AFP - Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's handover of the African Union presidency to Malawi Sunday was greeted with hushed relief by many diplomats after a year of infighting they said harmed the body's image.
Heads of state and government from the 53 member states elected president Bingu wa Mutharika, blocking Kadhafi's plans to stay on for a second mandate, which would have been in breaking with rules for the presidency to rotate.
Relief was palpable in the corridors of the AU headquarters, after a year during which Kadhafi and Jean Ping, who heads the body's executive arm, publicly expressed contradictory views on some of the continent's main crises.
"It's a very good decision and moreover the Guide did not walk out so at the end of the day Africa remains united," one high-ranking AU official told AFP after the meeting that confirmed Kadhafi's exit.
Elected to head the organisation in February 2009 the Libyan leader set the tone for his presidency when he asked his peers to refer to him as "the King of traditional kings of Africa".
In Sunday's opening ceremony, he did try to have his way by asking a representative of the Forum of traditional kings, sultans chiefs and princes -- an organisation he created from scratch -- to deliver an unscheduled speech.
The representative, whose name was not given, decked out in gold necklaces and carrying a sceptre, provoked some laughter and an equal amount of embarrassment as he went up onto the podium.
Comparing Kadhafi to the prophets "of the Bible or the Koran", he loudly exhorted the heads of state present to "follow the Guide whio is showing us the way," saying that he had the backing of all the peoples of Africa.
The tactic did not pay off and the Libyan leader looked disappointed and bitter, when after more than half an hour of closed-door discussions he came back to his seat and removed the card bearing the title "AU President".
In his speech he lashed out at the AU, whose creation he had fully supported in 2000, when it took over from the Organisation of African Unity.
"The AU chairperson doesn't have any prerogative actually," he said, vowing nevertheless to work for the continent and the institution and continue pushing for his dream of achieving the "United States of Africa".
"Kadhafi's chairmanship has been very harmful to the AU's image, notably in the handling of political crises such as Madagascar and Guinea," an official close to Jean Ping told AFP earlier.
Shortly after being elected at the helm of the AU, Kadhafi gave his support to a military junta that toppled Mauritania's president months earlier, essentially nullifying everything the pan-African body had previously said.
"It looks as if there are two parallel AU leaderships: on one side Jean Ping, who follows the organisation's line on crisis management, and on the other Colonel Kadhafi, who has his own line, generally very far removed from that of the international community," one European diplomat said on the eve of the summit.
Some continental heavyweights such as South Africa, Ethiopia and Uganda were virulently opposed to Kadhafi's strangleghold on the AU and determined to bar any attempt to extend his tenure.
But others, notably countries in the Sahel and west Africa, are faithful to the maverick Libyan leader and his oil dollars.
"The meeting went well but Benin was dead set in keeping Kadhafi as chairman. But I think he knew the decision was going to go against him," said one diplomat who took part in the meeting.
Date created : 2010-01-31