Faced with reality, AU begins to thaw its Libya position

By Khadija Patel 15 September 2011

The AU’s “High-Level ad hoc Committee on Libya” was hosted by South African President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria and was attended by Presidents Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Congo and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Mauritania and Mali, who make up the remainder of the committee, were represented by their ambassadors to South Africa. The meeting was also attended by the chairman of the AU commission, Jean Ping, and the commissioner for peace and security, ambassador Ramtane Lamamra. KHADIJA PATEL twiddled her thumbs in the gardens of the guesthouse while inside the AU bigwigs moved a little closer to recognising a new government in Libya.

There were no fireworks at the conclusion of the meeting of the African Union (AU) High-Level ad hoc Committee on Libya at the Presidential guesthouse in Pretoria on Tuesday. No, the AU has not recognised the Nato-backed, national transitional council as the government of Libya, nor has the AU been drawn into pronouncing its feelings on the future of Muammar Gaddafi.

With any major expectations of the AU out of the way then, the AU displayed a surprising softening in its previously rigid stance on the Libyan war. In a statement released after the meeting on Wednesday night, the committee indicated it has asked the head of the AU commission, Jean Ping, to submit a report to the organisation’s peace and security council “to enable the council to authorise the all-inclusive transitional government soon to be formed by the current authorities to occupy the seat of Libya in the AU, as soon as it is established”. While the statement falls far short of a recognition of the NTC as the rulers of Libya, the statement does indicate an increasing acknowledgement of the significance of the NTC to the future of Libya.

While a number of African states have already recognised the NTC as the leaders of Libya, the AU, as the principal representative of African states, has taken an immutable stance of neutrality on the Libyan war. Detractors of the AU’s position of forced neutrality on the Libyan war have accused the organisation of an irrational loyalty to Gaddafi, who was a key funder of the organisation. All may be fair in love, as it is, in war but the AU has remained unmoved by stinging criticism of its handling of the Libyan conflict.

While it must be clear to the AU, as it is to the rest of the world, that Gaddafi is no longer the leader of Libya, the AU continues to cling to its roadmap for the resolution of the conflict. At an AU summit in May this year, the AU called for the need for an immediate end to all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians as well as an immediate ceasefire to be monitored by a “credible, effective and verifiable international mechanism”. Following the AU roadmap, a ceasefire would lead to the establishment of a consensual and inclusive transitional period during which the necessary reforms to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people would be carried out, culminating in elections that would enable the Libyans to choose their leaders for themselves.

In its failure to recognise the NTC, the AU insists on a transitional government that is representative of “all sectors and representatives of all the regions that complete Libya”. The implication in this position of the AU is that Gaddafi loyalists are expected to be represented in the new Libya, but sources within South Africa’s department of international relations and co-operation, which has adopted the identical position on any future Libyan government, have played down suspicions that the official position calls for Gaddafi loyalists to be roped into the new Libyan government.

Rather, like the AU, South Africa expects all the regions and tribes that make up Libya to be represented in an interim government. As fighting between “Gaddafi loyalists” and rebel forces continues, despite the NTC assuming office in Tripoli, this position may well hold some merit. The reality is that Libya remains a divided country. So long as rebel forces face resistance on the ground there remains the danger that Libya could break up into two, or more, states. It would certainly be to the detriment of Libya, and Africa, if in the clamour to install the NTC as the “legitimate” voice of the Libyan people, Libya breaks up.

Although NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil hails from the Gaddafi camp, as former justice minister the South African minister for international relations and co-operation stressed on Tuesday that figureheads were not enough. “I don’t think if you have one or two people we would then say this is all-inclusive, because you have picked one person from that part of the world,” Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said.

The meeting on Tuesday does, however, signal a significant softening in the stance of the AU towards the NTC. Ping has recently met with representatives of the NTC, the United Nations and the League of Arab States and in its statement at the conclusion of the meeting the AU indicated it had received an expression of a “strategic commitment to the African continent” from the NTC leadership. African participation in the “Friends of Libya” conference in Paris earlier this month was sparse, prompting speculation that the new Libya would look outside the continent for its future direction.  The NTC’s expression of commitment to the African continent is then especially timely. Only time will tell how exactly the NTC will repay its allies in the formation of a new Libya, but the AU seems to have been reassured that the NTC still sees Libya as an African state. 

It was also revealed the NTC expressed a commitment to give “priority to national unity and to bring together all Libyan stakeholders, without any exception and to rebuild the country” – again reassuring the AU in its stance.  The NTC also vowed to the AU to protect all foreign workers within Libya, including the African migrant workers.

In response to the NTC’s affirmation of Africa, the ad hoc committee recommended the peace and security council of the African Union to encourage the NTC to “spare no efforts in ensuring its effective follow-up to living up to its pledge to formally institute an all-inclusive transitional government”. The ad hoc committee has been reassured enough with the NTC’s commitment, to begin preparing a seat in the AU for an “all-inclusive transitional government”, but while the seat is warmed the AU warned that the softening of its stance on Libya was founded in “the exceptional circumstances in and the uniqueness of the situation of Libya, and without prejudice to the relevant instruments of the AU, particularly those on unconstitutional changes of governments.” DM

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