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ACCRA (Reuters) - Declaring himself a "soldier for Africa", Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi called on the continent on Saturday to unite under a single government so it could compete in a globalize world.
Speaking on the eve of an African Union summit in Accra, Gaddafi said AU leaders had not yet achieved the dream of unity voiced half a century ago by Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, founding father of African independence.
"For Africa, the matter is to be or not to be," the Libyan leader told a cheering audience of students, activists and local Muslim leaders at the University of Ghana.
"My vision is to wake up the African leaders to unify our continent."
Flanked by female bodyguards dressed in camouflage, Gaddafi wore dark glasses and a brown shirt emblazoned with images of Pan-African leaders and a map of the continent.
Holding up posters of the Libyan leader, students and activists shouted "African Union Now" and "African Government Now" in a hall decked with posters calling for unity.
Accra is the last stop in a week-long road trip by Gaddafi to the summit via the West African capitals of Bamako, Conakry, Freetown and Abidjan.
At each stop, Gaddafi held rallies calling for the establishment of a government of the United States of Africa.
"If the African masses are enlightened and aware and take the right decision, then Africa will come into being," he said. "Those at the summit should hear the voice of the masses."
Few of the summit leaders share Gaddafi's vision of an immediate African government. Many say there must be gradual steps towards unity, first consolidating the continent's regional economic blocs.
Civil society groups have also criticized the summit's single-item agenda, saying leaders are discussing a utopian ideal while ignoring urgent problems like violence in Sudan's western Darfur region and repression in Zimbabwe.
Africa needed one voice and one army, Gaddafi said.
"How can an African country face a Europe that is united, negotiate with a big USA (or Japan or China)?" he said. "If we have a United States of Africa, then Africa can be on an equal footing and negotiate with them."
Uniting the continent would also staunch the flow of migrants to Europe, Gaddafi said.
Thousands of Africans risk their lives in rickety wooden boats to journey to Europe in search of jobs and a better life.
A united Africa would better exploit its own resources and create jobs to keep young Africans at home, Gaddafi said.
"Either we live in Africa or we die in Africa, no more migration. Africa is our mother, how can we leave our mother?," he said.
But despite the cheers, many in the audience doubted the time was right for Gaddafi's grand vision.
"It is a premature movement. We have lots of ethnic, financial and economic hassles which need to be addressed before we think of a united African continent," said 27-year-old student John Awesi Amponsah.