Daniel Howden: From Colonel to King of Kings - Gaddafi's heady rise

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The Independent Online

Tripoli's tower blocks and lamp-posts are weighed down by portraits casting the "brother leader" as King of Africa. One declares Libya as the "Gate to Africa" while another asserts that "Africa is Hope" and above each of them floats the face of Muammar al-Gaddafi in flattering soft focus. Another banner shows a great galleon with all of Africa's flags acting as sails.

Leader and Guide of the Revolution, Imam of the Muslims, King of Kings and relatively lowly colonel in the Libyan army, the 67-year-old is a collector of titles. But his leadership of the African Union offers the best insight into the distance travelled in the 40 years since a 27-year-old army officer toppled King Idris.

Col Gaddafi's role model at that point was Egypt's General Nasser. The young Bedouin revolutionary was a confirmed Pan-Arabist like the Egyptian and had apparently memorised all his speeches. However, his pursuit of the goal of a single Arab state was given short shrift by Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat.

With his pan-Arab dreams frustrated, the Libyan leader looked south. Initially this saw him fund an on-again, off-again civil war in Chad that lasted 15 years. During this period he sponsored rebel groups in West Africa, backed the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the IRA. By the 1990s Libya was the target of international economic sanctions. Col Gaddafi then began to look to sub-Saharan Africa as a way to bestride the international stage.

It was at the Organisation of African Nations that he first pushed the idea of a United States of Africa. This was followed by a concerted campaign to buy influence across the continent using Libya's income from oil. The results have been dramatic. In August of last year he was anointed King of Kings in Africa. And in January of this year he finally got the coveted chairmanship of the African Union.

While his plans to bounce his fellow African leaders into a single country and a single currency have been largely ignored, agreement is close on a joint delegation to December's climate summit in Copenhagen, where they will pursue $67bn in compensation from rich nations.

The lavishing of Libya's energy wealth on African causes has stirred quiet resentment at home, where one diplomat said "people are fed up with their money being spent on Africans when the health service here is so bad they have to go to Tunisia if they are sick".

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