Kampala is bracing for yet another diplomatic row with Libyan Leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi after officials here learnt that Tripoli was clandestinely trying to book virtually all the luxury hotel rooms in the city ahead of the African Union summit.
The summit in Kampala is three weeks away. The Libyan move would embarrass the Uganda government as it would leave the estimated 49 heads of government invited for the summit later this month without suitable accommodation.
Our highly placed sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told us last week that Gaddafi recently instructed the Libyan Mission in Uganda to book 3,040 hotel rooms for Libya’s contingent. This alarmed the host nation, which interpreted the move as a breach of diplomacy since the host country is the one supposed to make such arrangements.
“There was a lot of panic because we feared this man could take all the good hotels and leave us in an embarrassing situation of housing our guests in low-class hotels and guest houses,” a source close to the preparations of the summit told us at the weekend.
To prevent disaster, one of our sources added, the government moved fast to “block book” all the hotel rooms at Speke Resort and Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, where the summit is to be held, and at Sheraton Hotel in Kampala.
Munyonyo shall accommodate all the leaders from the African countries, while Sheraton has been booked for 13 heads of state from the Caribbean who, according to our sources, confirmed last month that they would attend the three-day summit that starts on July 25.
The Caribbean leaders will be here for business and culture related issues, since majority of people in their countries are descendants of Africans.
The disagreement over the size of Libya’s delegation has been ongoing since June, our sources told us. It has apparently sucked in Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and President Museveni as well.
In one of the closed meetings between the ministry officials and MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee, as government tried to impress upon the MPs the urgency of approving the release of funds for the summit in time, it was revealed that if Parliament delayed to approve the budget, a “leader of one of the countries would book all the hotels,” a source that attended the meeting told us.
Parliament last week approved the budget, after initial objection, but slashed it from Shs 5.6 billion to Shs 4.1 billion. This was after the MPs discovered that some of the activities, like provision of internet services, were budgeted for twice while others, like decorations, were not necessary.
“Every hotel has an obligation to provide furniture for conference and meeting rooms. How can the ministry ask Parliament to approve money for such activity? We should learn to budget within our means,” Betty Amongi, a member of the committee, told The Observer last week.
The meeting that runs from July 25 to 27 will be the 15th ordinary session of the African Union Summit and is expected to be attended by over 3,000 delegates. The theme of the summit is ‘Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa.’ The summit will also discuss peace and security, infrastructure, energy, agriculture and food security. It will further deliberate on whether the AU Commission, the technical arm of the union, should become an authority with executive powers and acting independently. Under the new arrangement, the commission would have a president and vice president as well as secretaries holding several portfolios.
Our sources have told us that Gaddafi, who usually refers to himself as “King of Kings”, is likely to travel with a big delegation of African cultural leaders – who he believes are key in his campaign for the declaration of a “united states of Africa”.
However, Uganda is uncomfortable with Gaddafi’s position. In April, Sam Kutesa, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, told The East African newspaper that “we shall not accept Gaddafi to bring traditional rulers and cultural leaders to the AU Summit. They can play their cultural role but should desist from participating in national and international politics”.
The eccentric leader is also expected to travel with a large entourage that includes government ministers, business people, a large security detail, cooks, and secretaries numbering in hundreds.
Okello Henry Oryem, the minister of state for Foreign Affairs, downplayed the matter in a telephone interview with The Observer on Saturday, saying it does not constitute a diplomatic row like some people are saying.
He said that they had informed Libya, like all other countries, that they are free to bring any number of delegates but that Uganda, as stipulated by the AU protocol that governs the hosting of such meetings, shall only cater for three delegates per country. These are: the head of state, foreign affairs minister, and one other person.
“We have booked three rooms for each country and that’s all we are offering, but Libya is free to bring any number of delegates provided they will cater for them,” he said.
Oryem added that only accredited delegates shall be allowed inside the conference hall.
Once close allies, Museveni and Gaddafi have gradually drifted apart in recent times following disagreements on several issues.
Museveni, like many African leaders, has for instance opposed Gaddafi’s push for the quick integration of Africa, calling for a gradual process. The two openly clashed over this matter during an AU summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in February 2009.
The Ugandan leader is also not happy with Gaddafi’s close association with some cultural leaders in Uganda and last year, he blocked a meeting of 200 cultural leaders drawn from Africa that had been sponsored by the Libyan leader to be held in Kampala.
After the September 2009 riots in Buganda that led to the death of at least 30 people, Museveni accused an African country of funding Mengo to destabilise his government, which some analysts believe was a veiled reference to Libya.
On his own, Gaddafi is both an intriguing and interesting leader who never shies away from controversy and never makes secret of the fact that he should be treated in a special way.
He sparked off a big diplomatic row with Nigeria when he suggested that the country should be divided into the Muslim North and Christian South to heal the religious-based divisions that have resulted in deadly clashes.
Last November when he traveled to Italy to attend the UN summit on Food Security, he invited 500 attractive Italian “hostesses” to a villa in Rome for an evening at which they were urged to convert to Islam.
According to the Times of London, Gaddafi told his guests: “Convert to Islam. Jesus was sent to the Jews, not for you. Mohammed, on the other hand, was sent for all human beings.“