ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – The nations of Africa should sever all links with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi despite his long support and patronage for many African leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday as she warned that without broad social, economic and political reforms Africa will face the same kind of revolts now sweeping the Arab world.
In a speech to diplomats at the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Clinton said Africa should join most of the rest of the world in abandoning Gadhafi, who she said had lost all legitimacy to rule because of attacks on his own citizens.
"I know it is true that over many years Mr. Gadhafi has played a major role in providing financial support for many African nations and institutions, including the African Union," she said. "It has become clear by the day that he has lost his legitimacy to rule and that we are long past the day when he can remain in power."
She urged all African leaders to demand that Gadhafi accept a ceasefire and then leave Libya. She also said they should expel pro-Gadhafi Libyan diplomats from their countries, suspend the operations of Libyan embassies and work with the Libyan opposition.
"Your words and actions could make the difference in bringing this situation to a close and allowing the people of Libya to get to work rebuilding their country," Clinton said. "The world needs the African Union to lead."
Since he seized power in Libya in 1969, Gadhafi has offered training, funding and other support for African rebel groups, including the African National Congress, which was fighting white minority rule in South Africa.
In addition, Gadhafi paid the membership dues of many smaller, poorer countries at the United Nations, African Union and other international bodies.
As such, he is seen as a hero by many African leaders and Libya is still a member in good standing of the African Union. The Arab League, to which Libya also belongs, suspended the country's membership in the midst of the crisis.
The revolt against Gadhafi in Libya is just one among many in the Middle East and North Africa, where the longtime leaders of Tunisia and Egypt have been ousted and anti-government protests have been met by severe crackdowns in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen.
Clinton said that repressive governance is no longer accepted in the world. She said discontent, mainly among exploding youth populations in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere cannot be suppressed in the era of the internet and social media.
"Too many people in Africa still live under long-standing rulers — men who care too much about the longevity of their reign and too little about the legacy that should be built for their countries' future. Some even claim to believe in democracy defined as one election, one time," she said to laughter.
Clinton said that approach has been soundly rejected, noting the Arab uprisings.
"After years of living under dictatorships, people have demanded new leadership in places where their voices have long been silenced they are exercising their right to speak at the top of their lungs," she said. "The old ways of governing are no longer acceptable."
She said governments must treat their people with dignity, respect their rights and deliver economic opportunity. She said unprecedented uprisings in the Arab world were sign that African leaders ignore their citizens' demands at their own peril.
Clinton was the first U.S. secretary of state to speak to the African Union.
While she was speaking, the lights went out in the auditorium. Clinton kept speaking in the dark.
"When things like this happen you just keep on going," she said to laughter from the crowd. (AP)