African Union diplomatic initiative on Libya should be commended

As civil war threatens to break up Libya, with cities changing hands almost every day, the world has woken up to the fact that no matter how close two countries are believed to be, no two societies are ever identical. Initially, when protests and riots broke out in Libya some three week ago, the dominant international opinion was that the Kadaffi regime was going to collapse in quick order.

As civil war threatens to break up Libya, with cities changing hands almost every day, the world has woken up to the fact that no matter how close two countries are believed to be, no two societies are ever identical. Initially, when protests and riots broke out in Libya some three week ago, the dominant international opinion was that the Kadaffi regime was going to collapse in quick order.

This was a popular position informed by similar events that had just swept away the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, which had lorded it over their people for decades.

However, no matter how much the Arab countries have in common, their dynamics are varied. This is what the events in Libya are demonstrating. Every country has its unique social, political and cultural context that determine the course of events it takes at a given point in history. Consequently, the course and outcome of revolutionary fever gripping the Arab world is never going to be uniform.

While, for instance, Ben Ali in Tunisia fled the country as Tunisians flooded the streets, demanding his resignation, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, opted for a slow political death, with a protracted confrontation that came to an end when he finally handed over power to the Egyptian military and the protestors at Tahrir Square. However, unlike Ben Ali who was forced out of the country, Mubarak has stayed put and is enjoying his twilight years, playing beach soccer with his grand children at the sea side resort of Sham el Sheik, on the Red sea.

Muammar Kadaffi, on the other hand, has proven to be a different kettle of fish. When protesters hit the streets, the Libyan leader drew a line in the sand and instead of the police firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Kadaffi’s military went to war and fought pitched battles with the rioters.

What set Libya apart from the experience in Tunisia and Egypt, was not only the deploying of the military to fight the protesting Libyans, but the fact that a large number of officers and men of the Libyan armed forces defected with their weapons to join the protests which had degenerated into a fully fledged military confrontation. Muammar Kadaffi has dug in and promised to fight to the bitter end. The protesters-turned rebels on the other hand are not having any of it and say they won’t settle for anything less than Kadaffi’s exist.

Reaction from the international community has not been helpful either, with striking contradictions manifesting themselves within governments. While President Obama was declaring that Muammar Kadaffi had lost legitimacy and has to step down, his own Chief of Intelligence, Gen. Clapper, was telling a Senate Hearing Committee that the Libyan leader was militarily too powerful to be run out of town. Across the Atlantic French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared his government’s recognition of the rebels in Libya and went on to host a delegation from Benghazi at the Elysée Palace. While there was heated talk about a No-fly zone to stop Kadaffi’s jet fighters from bombing the rebel positions and the civilian population, the United States Defence Secretary, Robert Gates warned that any attempt to exclude the Libyan Air force from flying in their own airspace would begin with an attack on Libya.

As if this was not confusing enough, the Arab League weighed in, with an endorsement of the No-fly zone, but insisting that there should be no invasion of Libya. Experts were quick to remind Mr. Amar Moussa that he can’t have his cake and eat, since a No-fly zone begins with the invasion of Libya.    

The changes happening in the Arab world aside, the parties and interests, around the world, that would want to see Kadaffi’s back are legion. Libya belongs to a good number of multilateral organizations, ranging from the African Union, to the Arab League and the United Nations, and somehow, each of these organizations has some proposal with regard to how peace can be restored in Libya. The challenge is that, you can’t pick out who is genuinely concerned about the Libyan people, from those in the mix who regard the conflict as the ultimate opportunity to overthrow the Kadaffi regime, or even those who view it is a platform for grandstanding, as they portray themselves as peacemakers and statesmen.

Indeed some of the actors are milking the events in Libya for all they are worth, and this will only serve to prolong the suffering of the Libyan people. For as long as there are groups and individuals motivated by their own interests and opportunistic gains, a solution to the conflict in Libya will be long and painful to reach.

Among the organizations with legitimate authority and mandate to seek solutions to the crisis in Libya is the African Union, and it is within this context that on March 10th, 2011, a Heads of State Summit was convened in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to examine the events in Libya. Rwanda in her capacity as a member of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, called for an end to the violence and loss of life in Libya.

On the agenda, the Heads of state also studied a report by a panel led by the President of Mauritanian, which was constituted at the end of January to look into the post-election conflict and the situation in Ivory Coast. It was on the basis of this report and the findings of the panel that the Heads of State Summit this month endorsed and declared Mr. Quattara as the Head of State.

With Libya high on the agenda, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union last week worked to put together a Heads of State panel to look into the situation in Libya and forward possible recommendations, for a solution. Rwanda, as a prominent member of the Peace and Security Council, was among the first countries to be proposed, but declined the offer, owing to a busy agenda and other international commitments, including peace-keeping on the continent. While promising to remain an active member of the Peace and Security Council, Rwanda went ahead and nominated Uganda, a fellow East African Community member, which was duly accepted as representative of the region on the panel.

The successful conclusion of the negotiations in Addis Ababa was an outcome of tireless efforts by the African Union, not individual member states, to find a solution to the Libyan conflict.       

As the world works to resolve the conflict in Libya, it is would probably make the challenge manageable if some kind of coordination was effected among all the groups and organizations seeking to bring an end to the conflict, if for nothing else, at least to avoid duplication of efforts. At this point, however, the initiative by the African Union is evidently more focused, and should be commended and encouraged.

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