Africa's fragile unity hung in the balance today as a Moroccan-led boycott stymied the opening of the annual summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Libya.
Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi, the OAU chairman, said here today that he would attend only in the unlikely event that there is a quorum. This would mean that Moi would not turn the OAU's leadership over to Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, who is scheduled to succeed him.
Since Sunday, when an attempt to overthrow Moi was crushed by the Army, most diplomats had not expected him to attend the controversial summit.
Moi told diplomats today that so far there were 129 confirmed dead in the uprising, mainly junior Air Force officers, although analysts felt the final figure would be much higher.
In Tripoli, OAU delegates held informal sessions away from the conference center. By the end of the day 17 African heads of state or government had arrived and some other nations were represented by their foreign ministers, but the total was far short of the 34 needed to reach a two-thirds majority of the 51 members.
Qaddafi has threatened to go ahead without a quorum, a move that could break up the OAU, but the scheduled opening today passed without a formal session. The OAU meeting was scheduled to end Sunday.
Morocco is leading the boycott by mainly Arab and West African nations opposed to the admission of the Polisario Front to the OAU. Moroccan forces have been fighting the Polisario guerrillas for control of arid Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, for six years.
Nairobi continued its slow return to normal during daylight hours today. Gunfire could be heard occasionally, apparently from clashes between troops and rebels. Two bodies were on the sidewalk opposite a popular downtown movie theater this morning.
A 6 p.m. curfew is still in effect, and the exodus from the capital begins long before that, leaving the streets deserted by late afternoon. Autos race through Nairobi's lush residential neighborhoods to beat the deadline. Sporadic shooting could still be heard after dark.
Moi, looking fit and confident, according to diplomats, accused the Air Force rebels of encouraging looting that caused millions of dollars worth of destruction Sunday. Most Nairobi stores have yet to reopen. The president said the rebels would be court-martialed. It is believed that most members of the Air Force are being detained pending investigations.
In Tripoli, the OAU delegates face the dilemma of how to proceed without a quorum or an official agenda. Insufficient representation over the last nine days prevented formal meetings of the OAU foreign ministers who were to prepare an agenda.
If Qaddafi, who has made it clear that he wants to lead the OAU, goes ahead with the summit without a quorum, the OAU could break up into two or more camps.
However, even some of the leaders who support Polisario and are present in Tripoli may hesitate to attend a conference that could produce such a rift. The OAU was established in 1963 to encourage African unity and speed the end of colonialism on the continent
The African solution to such controversial problems in the past has usually been to finesse the issue, and that could happen again if there is a decision to postpone the summit. Then a special summit could be held, probably not in Libya, to deal with the Polisario question without endangering the entire future of the organization.
The problem came to the forefront last February when the outgoing OAU secretary general, Edem Kodjo, ruled that Polisario's Sahara Arab Democratic Republic should be seated at an OAU foreign ministers' meeting because 26 nations, a majority of the organization, had recognized it as the legitimate government of the Western Sahara despite the continuing war. Morocco still controls most of the territory.
Kodjo argued that the issue was an administrative matter to be decided by a simple majority, while Morocco and its backers said that it was a matter reserved for the summit and that a two-thirds vote was necessary.
The issue has plagued and often paralyzed subsequent specialized meetings of the OAU. Senegal refused to admit Polisario to an OAU meeting, causing a boycott by its supporters. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, admitted the front and a Moroccan-led boycott followed.
Morocco's cause has also been aided by some members' opposition to holding a summit in Libya and anointing Qaddafi, who has used terrorism abroad to eliminate his enemies, as Africa's leader.
Qaddafi has accused the United States of encouraging African nations, through "corruption," to boycott the OAU. He has not elaborated.
The United States has broken relations with Libya and urged all American companies and individuals to quit the country.