Libyan President elected as new AU Chairman

Monday, February 2, 2009

Addis Ababa - The African Union (AU) has elected Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as the new AU Chairman to head the continental organisation.

According to AU spokesman Habiba Mejri-Sheikh, President Gaddafi's election occurred in a closed-door session at the AU Summit on Monday.

The Libyan leader, who will be chair for a year, has replaced Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete.

As part of its principle of geographical rotation, the leadership of the AU had to go to a North African country, said Mr Mejri-Sheikh.

Mr Gaddafi is a staunch supporter of a union government for Africa, a project which has so far met with a great deal of resistance from many of the continent's other leaders.

At the Addis Ababa conference, which is to come to close on Wednesday, the decision was made to change the name of the current AU Commission to ''Authority'', but without transforming it into a true government of the union.

In his farewell speech as the AU Chairman, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete on Monday appealed to African leaders to restrain from seeking greater political power and influence for themselves, while urging them to focus on improving Africa's economic status.

"The efforts to remove from power the democratically elected governments are unacceptable," Mr Kikwete told the delegates.

He called on all "those who are using violence to respect democratic principles."

Mr Kikwete said African leaders should put more priority on tackling economic issues and poverty to rid Africa of its global shame as the poorest continent.

He said African leaders should set aside more time to discuss a global solution to Africa's under-development and make greater use of the existing global cooperation.

He further stressed the need for Africans to seek a greater voice on global affairs and called on Africa to establish better working ties with European and Asian leaders.

"Africa must also be included in the search for global solutions to the current financial crisis, he said, adding that Africa was part of the world and must not be ignored during this period.

He also made a proposal that the AU should immediately establish a budget for the AU Heads of State chair to enable him to tackle the various challenges facing the continent.

Later in the day, African leaders paid tribute to their departed colleagues, among them the late Guinean President Lansana Conte and the late Zambian leader Levy Mwanawasa, who took ill while attending the last summit in July in Egypt.

The AU also sent condolences to the people and the government of Kenya after two fatal fires left hundreds dead.