AU – and SA – finally recognise Libya’s new government

By Khadija Patel 20 September 2011

Reality has finally dawned on the African Union, which announced from New York on Tuesday its recognition of the National Transitional Council as the de facto government of Libya. South Africa followed suit. It was not international pressure alone that shoved the AU closer to reality. Discord within its own ranks left it with no option but to recognise the NTC as legitimate representative of the Libyan people. By KHADIJA PATEL.

The African Union and South Africa have finally caved in to international pressure, acknowledging that power has indeed changed hands in Libya. In a dramatic move on Tuesday, South Africa’s department of international relations and co-operation announced that both the African Union and South Africa now recognise Libya’s National Transitional Council as the government of Libya.

The belated recognition comes after both the AU and South Africa refused to recognise the NTC, sparking speculation that African governments were stymied by a sense of loyalty to Gaddafi in their response to the war in Libya. On 23 August, at a hastily convened press conference organised to quell rampant speculation of Gaddafi’s possible whereabouts, South Africa’s minister of international relations insisted the country would not recognise a rebel government. “As far as we are concerned, if this government falls, there is no government,” Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said.

South Africa and the AU came under severe criticism for their failure to recognise that Gaddafi had indeed fallen, solemnly professing neutrality to what they deemed to be a “domestic squabble”. As the no-fly zone continued to be enforced and Nato extended its military intervention in Libya by another three months, AU members like South Africa accused Nato of pursuing regime change in the country, contravening its stated mandate of the protection of civilians.  While the AU did its best to put on a united front to its position on Libya, it faced mounting pressure from within to call on  Gaddafi to step down and support the NTC.

At the conclusion of the AU’s “high-level ad hoc committee on Libya” in Pretoria last Wednesday, the committee stressed the need for a “united African position”, indication that the African Union peace and security council would meet in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week “to review developments and take appropriate positions to reinforce efforts to bring peace, democracy and development, in Libya; including ensuring a united African position”. As 20 African states have already recognised the NTC, assuring that united position has required that the AU itself change its position.

According to the AU statement the AU was encouraged by assurances made by the NTC to the chairman of the AU Commision Jean Ping, on its  “strategic commitment to the African continent”,  “to give priority to national unity and to bring together all Libyan stakeholders, without any exception, to rebuild the country” and a “commitment to protect all foreign workers within Libya, including the African migrant workers.”

The change of heart from the AU comes just as the NTC announced on Monday that it had delayed the formation of a government indefinitely. While the NTC officially blames a squabble over the assignment of portfolios for the delay, it is widely believed that the formation of a government is being severely hampered by dissent in its ranks.

The AU may yet have to dodge uncomfortable questions about the timing of its change of heart. Reality may well have intervened a little late, but would those advocating a stronger regional body in Africa have preferred the AU stick to its metaphorical guns – no matter how bizarre those guns actually are?  DM

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