SIRTE, Libya (AP) — Some of the biggest names in Africa came to Libya to applaud Moammar Gadhafi and his ideas. But they left without making any concrete progress toward the "United States of Africa" that the Libyan leader says is the only way to rescue the continent from poverty and powerlessness.
At the end of two-day Organization of African Unity summit in the coastal Libyan town of Sirte on Friday night, the leaders announced the "establishment" of an African Union but said not enough nations had formally ratified the proposal, first floated by Gadhafi in 1999 and adopted as a goal a year later at a summit in Togo.
Two-thirds of the OAU's 53 nations, or 36 states, must ratify the union before it can come into force.
The failure at Sirte to institute Gadhafi's latest foreign policy objective is not likely to slow his pursuit of a leading role in Africa and a place in its history.
The union was to include an African central bank, a court of justice, a single currency and a parliament. The proposal that African states can find strength by working together will be considered again at a July summit in Zambia.
At least half of the 53 OAU members sent their head of state to the Sirte summit. Special guests included such heavyweights as former South African President Nelson Mandela and former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, who said Gadhafi had Africa's best interests in mind.
"It is not one man's dream — it is an African dream," Kaunda told The Associated Press.
But African rivalries, concerns about national sovereignty and conflicting interests have contributed to failed attempts at forging closer ties among nations in the world's poorest continent.
Some of these attempts date back to 1963, the year when the OAU was founded. Today, the OAU is widely seen as ineffective.
Gadhafi has never hesitated to use his country's vast oil and gas wealth to promote his foreign policy objectives in both Africa and the Arab world. In Sirte, he paid off the arrears of at least 10 small African nations so they could meet the OAU requirement for participating in the summit's proceedings and in voting.
But it may take more than money to transform Gadhafi into a trusted a pan-African leader. Gadhafi in the 1970s and 1980s supported rebel movements in Africa, undermining stability in countries he now says he wants to help strengthen, such as Chad and Sudan. He has allegedly sponsored international terrorism and has given refuge to wanted terrorists or provided them with training on Libyan soil.
Gadhafi, whose country is both Arab and North African, had grown frustrated with past failed efforts to bring Arabs together. The final straw came in 1998 when Arab leaders refused to endorse an OAU resolution rejecting U.N. air sanctions imposed on Libya for refusing to hand over two Libyans suspected in the 1988 terrorist bombing of a Pan Am passenger plane.
To woo Africa, Gadhafi has swapped his traditional Libyan robes for African robes. He's even adopted some of Mandela's trademarks, such as waving both fists when he's pleased.
Years ago, Gadhafi supported Mandela's African National Congress in its battle against apartheid, and the two men continue to have a close relationship. Mandela's verbal guarantees to Gadhafi were sufficient to resolve a deadlock over the handover of the two Pan Am suspects.
"We don't have ballistic missiles or nuclear bombs now, but we in Africa have a will that never rusts," Gadhafi told delegates in a closing speech Friday night.