Despite widespread expectations the US would pursue a United Nations Security Council resolution to unfreeze $1.5 billion of ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi’s frozen assets, the hallowed halls of the UN saw no such action. All it took was a little doctoring of the proposal itself. After some arm twisting, South Africa struck a deal with the US to release the $1.5 billion of frozen Libya funds for various humanitarian and administrative needs in Libya.
In a little display of semantic gymnastics South Africa requested that references to Libya’s national transitional council, or the rebels, be removed from the proposal itself and be replaced instead with “relevant authority”. South Africa’s initial refusal to agree to the US-backed proposal was couched in concern that an agreement to channel funds to the NTC amounted to recognising the Benghazi-based group as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people while removing specific mention of the NTC allows South Africa to continue along its path of measured caution on the war in Libya.
South Africa and the African Union (AU) have still not recognised the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya .Well-placed sources speculate that upon the conclusion of the AU peace and security council meeting in Addis Ababa on Friday, the African Union and South Africa will admit that Muammar Gaddafi is no longer the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. It is also believed the AU and South Africa will take steps towards recognising an interim government in place of Gaddafi. Significantly, that interim government for South Africa and the AU must be differentiated from the NTC in its current form. The AU will demand, in accordance with the much-ignored “roadmap” that has informed its diplomacy on Libya so far, that the interim government include elements from all sectors of Libyan society. Tripoli must feature there just as prominently as Benghazi. So too, must Libyan tribes be considered in the make-up of the interim government.
South Africa’s belated agreement to the unfreezing proposal demonstrates how fluid a stance the South African one on Libya is. South Africa agreed to sign the unfreezing proposal on condition the reference to the NTC in the proposal be removed and replaced with “relevant authority”.
The haggling at the UN over the $1.5 billion is set to mark a precedent on what exactly the fate of Gaddafi’s billions will be. Early on Thursday the NTC announced they would seek to free a whopping $5 billion in frozen assets to “jump-start Libya’s economy and provide vital relief to its citizens”. This initial sum is set to be the first of many transfers to Tripoli.
South Africa’s agreement to the US-backed proposal comes at the cost of great diplomatic wrangling. On both sides of the Atlantic, Western leaders expressed dismay at South Africa’s refusal to the proposal, insisting that the delay incurred by South Africa’s refusal would be to the detriment of the Libyan people. Speaking at the post-cabinet briefing on Thursday morning, department of international relations and co-operation spokesman Clayson Monyela assured the assembled media that South Africa was not opposed to unfreezing funds for the humanitarian assistance of the Libyan people. Monyela went on to reiterate that South Africa had not yet recognised the NTC. The UN, Monyela pointed out, had also not recognised the NTC as the official voice of the Libyan people. The AU, he said, will meet in Addis Ababa to pronounce on who exactly the legitimate government of Libya is and then act on the distribution of frozen funds. By the end of Thursday however, the action of the South African mission to the UN to agree to the unfreezing proposal indicates the AU had already agreed that the Libyan people are not represented by Gaddafi.
There is little doubt, however, that South Africa faced tremendous diplomatic pressure to agree to the unfreezing proposal. If South Africa is indeed the fat kid in the diplomatic playground, as one diplomat put it, then South Africa has also been picked on like a fat kid in a high school playground. A day after the South African mission to the UN decided to stall on its decision to unfreeze Gaddafi’s assets, the South African position on Libya was lambasted by diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic. It was clear to the US and its allies pushing the proposal that South Africa had to be pushed into a grudging acceptance of the proposal. On Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron called President Jacob Zuma. British foreign secretary William Hague called on his counterpart Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
Their message to South Africa was unequivocal, sign the damn proposal.
So desperate were British politicians to twist the arm of their South African counterparts that British defence secretary Liam Fox resorted to psychological bullying. “They wanted the world at one point to stand with them against apartheid. I think they now need to stand with the Libyan people, help unfreeze their assets and allow their authorities to get access to the capital they need to rebuild the country, and it’s disappointing the stance they have taken so far. I hope that even now they will change their minds,” he said of South Africa on BBC radio.
Minds have now been changed. The coveted $1.5 billion will soon make its way to Libya, but it remains unclear how, if at all, the TNC will acquiesce to a transitional government that stunts its own power in the country. Besides, it may well be some time before Libya actually sees the requisite peace to form such a government. The bombs continue to fall, the arms continue to fire and Libya, for the foreseeable future continues to smoulder. DM
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