Africa is just about split down the middle on admitting the Polisario Front to the Organization of African Unity - and its decision on this issue could put the OAU's own future on the rocks.
In the short run, the danger is that the OAU meeting scheduled to take place in Libya in August could end in bitter dispute or be canceled. But the split over the Polisario is widely regarded as the worst crisis the OAU has ever faced. Diplomats here say that if the Libyan summit collapses in quarrels and walk-outs, the OAU might break up.
Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, outgoing OAU chairman, is trying to gather the members of the OAU's western Sahara committee to work out a plan on this issue that could save the summit, diplomats say.
But the committee's efforts on the Polisario issue thus far have failed, so some observers are not optimistic. The committe was formed at last year's OAU summit in Nairobi to organize a western Sahara cease-fire and to hold a referendum to establish whether the region's residents favor independence, as the Polisario Front says they do, or whether they favor continued rule by Morocco.
A razor-thin majority of OAU foreign ministers voted to admit the Polisario Front at a fiery meeting in February. They recognized the front's shadow government, the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic. But 19 countries walked out of that meeting in protest. Since then every OAU meeting has collapsed for lack of a quorum.
The ideal short-term solution, sources here say, would be for the Polisario to agree to stay away from Tripoli in August. But the Polisario seems determined to take a seat, which will probably lead to a walkout by at least 19 members.
One indication of what is likely to happen in Libya is whatever transpires at an OAU foreign ministers meeting in Tripoli July 26. Ministers will decide on the summit agenda.
Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi has sent a mission around Africa to drum up support for the meeting. But the Libyan leader is also widely disliked.
The tally of countries whose leaders declare they will not attend the summit is increasing. Egypt's foreign minister says President Hosni Mubarak is not going - mainly because Egypt has no diplomatic relations with Libya. Sudanese President Jaafar Nimiery says he will not go.
Qaddafi did not invite Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko because he resumed relations with Israel. Chad has not been invited. Ugandan President Milton Obote is certain not to go since he has accused Libya of arming guerrillas trying to overthrow his regime. Gambia, Gabon, Guinea, Morocco, Senegal, and Somalia say they will not attend either.