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Monday, October 10, 2011

African Union (finally?) recognizes new Libyan leadership

On 21 September 2011, the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) H.E. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, announced the recognition of the National Transitional Council (NTC) ‘as the representative of the Libyan people as they form an all-inclusive transitional government that will occupy the Libyan seat at the AU’. Although being rather ambiguous in its wording – as it speaks of the NTC as an ‘all inclusive transitional government’, a status which the NTC can not claim to fulfill – this statement should be seen as a major alteration in the position of the AU and as a strong leg up for the NTC. Especially since South Africa expressed its support for the decision of the AU. Prior to this statement, the AU refused by all means to recognize the NTC while encouraging ‘the Libyan stakeholders to form an all-inclusive transitional government that would work towards the promotion of national unity, reconciliation and democracy’.

During the course of the conflict in Libya the AU has, under the leadership of South African President Jacob Zuma, continuously called for a cease-fire and mediation under African guidance. Simultaneously, the body expressed multiple concerns about the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1973. According to the AU the massive airstrikes NATO launched on Libyan soils would be counterproductive. As Zuma stated in June of this year: ‘These actions undermine the efforts of the AU in finding solutions to the problems facing its member states’. By the time Tripoli had been conquered by the rebels and all five veto-powers had recognized the NTC, the AU held on to the belief that the future for Libya would lie in a truly all-inclusive transitional government, including supporters of Gaddafi’s regime. This position provoked some fierce criticism from voices within and outside the African community. In essence, two strains of criticism can be identified.


A first group of commentators refers to the financial and military contributions of the Gaddafi regime in the 1970’s and 1980’s in support of the struggles for power of the current governments of Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa as well as to Gaddafi’s generosity towards the AU. Could it be called a coincidence, that in particular Museveni, Mugabe and Zuma deadlocked the AU with their firm refusal to recognize the NTC?

A second criticism discerns a manifest organizational problem in the slow recognition of new Libyan leadership, namely the ineffectiveness of AU’s decision making procedures. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, perhaps partly based on the slow response of the AU to the 2010-2011 Ivorian crisis, scrutinized the AU on such grounds: ‘I must confess I am very disappointed with the AU – the lack of efficiency, the lagging decisions, the fact that the different sub-regions are not well-connected into the decision-making process. (..) Getting the AU to work better should be a priority.

How should these criticisms be assessed? Well, undeniably they both hold certain merit. Gaddafi has indeed been a political ally to many of the current heads of governments and he has unmistakably promoted – politically and financially - the mental legacy of the AU over the past decades.  With regard to the second criticism, Mwangi S. Kimenyi, director of the Africa Growth Initiative, rightfully remarked in March 2011: The failure of the AU to take a firm position on the atrocities being committed in Libya has revealed the organization’s lack of a coherent strategy to implement its core objectives of ensuring peace and upholding human rights in the continent’. Nevertheless, without turning down these legitimate concerns, we should ask ourselves the following: what if the AU had developed a more coherent strategy, would it have made a difference?

On 17 March 2011, South Africa, Gabon and Nigeria voted in the affirmative on UNSC resolution 1973. In retrospect, these countries might seriously regret this decision. Operative clause 2 of this resolution was envisaged to become a benchmark for further action by the AU: Stresses the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people and notes the decisions of the Secretary-General to send his Special Envoy to Libya and of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union to send its ad hoc High Level Committee to Libya with the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution. This clause was effectively declared nugatory, when NATO neglected the Road Map to Peace from the AU High Level Committee and ignored all calls from the AU to halt the continuous airstrikes. The AU has been bypassed on all fronts by Europe and the US with regard to the situation in Libya. No sustainable dialogue was ever to be facilitated. To hit base, there is more behind the slow recognition of the AU than corrupt African leaders supporting an old friend and an ineffective organization unable to take adequate decisions. In the end, the AU feels terribly belittled by NATO, which has resulted in a higher reluctance to recognize the NTC.

Moreover, the AU not only strongly disagrees with NATO’s involvement in the Libyan conflict, but in particular also with the decision of the Prosecutor of the ICC to issue arrest warrants against Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam and Abdullah Al-Senussi in response to UNSC resolution 1973. The reaction of Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, speaks volumes in this respect:  Everyone can see that the ICC always comes at an inconvenient time, which pours oil on the fire. (..)  You know very well that it complicates the situation. (..) There should be no preconditions to talks between rebels and Gaddafi’s government’. Those following the discussions on the rising tensions between the AU and the ICC, will probably highlight the word ‘always’ just as I did.

In closure, it should be reiterated that there is more behind the late recognition of the NTC by the AU than appears at first sight. The delay is perhaps an illustrative effect of the lack of interest from western countries and the ICC, among other international institutions, for the differing intentions and dissenting opinions of African states. Many more examples of such ignorance or even arrogance can be identified, especially in the field of international human rights. I might reflect upon some of such examples in a future contribution.

Posted by Abel S. Knottnerus


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