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Kikwete and Mbeki must not be revisionists on Libya

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

The two former presidents are clinging to a false nostalgia of a past that does not exist and their blame game is based on a completely different set of facts when it comes to the Libya crisis.

Former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete at the 4th African Leadership Forum in Boksburg on Thursday recounted the events that led to UN resolution for the invasion of Libya, lamenting how Africa’s efforts in dealing with the crisis were dealt a blow even before the invasion.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, took that lamentation further, pointing a finger at the three African states, Nigeria, South Africa and Gabon who endorsed the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 which ostensibly was meant to have resulted in “an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute crimes against humanity”.

Fortunately or rather unfortunately the invasion happened only five years ago so we are not at the mercy of historians. We were all here. Some of us were almost obsessed with the developments in that country and the role of international institutions so we are forced to contradict Mbeki and Kikwete’s memories with out own and the records that are available for everyone to see.

Presidents Mbeki and Kikwete are, in fact, regurgitating former African Union chairperson, Jean Ping, who argued in December 2011, nine months after the first bombings happened, that the case of the AU’s intervention in Libya is a classic example of how African efforts to solve the continent’s challenges go unreported or are twisted to suit a hostile agenda. Ping argued that African issues have long suffered from either a lack of exposure in the mainstream media, marginalisation and misrepresentation or from outright silencing.

If we are to be cerebral in our analysis however, basing it on cold, hard facts, instead of our emotions, we may find that we are clinging to a false nostalgia of a past that does not exist and the blame game is based on a completely different set of facts. Here are the facts.

When the crisis in Libya began, it was hoped that the AU would be the one to deal with it under its cherished notion of “African solutions to African problems”. However, from the very beginning, the organisation took half-hearted measures in its reaction; its members did not speak with one voice on how to resolve the crisis; and Muammar Gaddafi ignored the organisation’s call to end the crisis peacefully, eventually resulting in the organisation being over-ridden by the western powers through means of the UN Security Council (UN SC). (Kasaija 2011)

On March 25, a week after the UN resolution was passed, Dumisani O. Nkomo, chief executive officer of Habakkuk Trust, captured our frustration as Africans rather more clearly.

The response of the African Union (AU), Nkomo said, had been heartbreakingly disappointing since the Arab Spring began, failing to provide leadership up to the beginning of the Libyan crisis. Diplomatic intervention by the AU were limited to the setting up of a special panel on Libya consisting of countries such as South Africa and Uganda, amongst other countries.

The first AU discussion on the Libyan crisis was at the Peace and Security Council (PSC) meeting of February 23, and focused on the Libyan authorities’ repression of demonstrations and the threats that Gaddafi was making against the opposition. The next discussion, held at the level of heads of state on March 10, forged the African diplomatic response to the Libya crisis.

Already at that time, events had been running ahead of the AU. We were all screaming, where is the AU to stop the regime vs civilians situation in Libya. All media across the globe was reporting the threats, shootings, killing of civilians so whatever diplomacy needed to happen, the first thing that needed to happen was the stopping of these threats to civilians by the securocracy.

The Libya crisis demonstrated that beyond rhetoric, the AU does not have the capacity to respond effectively to the crises facing Africa. The crisis rendered the notion of ‘African solutions to African problems’ moot and demonstrated that the AU lacks the requisite functional tools to actually put the notion into operation.

The other problem for the AU was that the eruption of civilian resistance in Libya, due to Gaddafi being a controversial and at times a divisive figure in Africa, ignited diverse responses from African countries.

There were those Africans who knew that the threat to Libyan civilians will remain while Gaddafi, a man who had pledged to “cleanse” his country “house by house”, remained in power. Then there were those who may have known that there was a reason Gaddafi conducted himself as he did.  Today, it is too late to appreciate that because soon as Gaddafi passed, the different factions that he had been kept at bay started fighting over control of Libya and its wealth.

The AU’s lacklustre response led to worldwide reports that this was motivated by its desire to protect Qaddafi’s regime. Even after his downfall, the union  delayed recognising the new Libyan authorities in order to force the inclusion of the former Libyan leader’s supporters into the new government.

In the end, the truth is that during the Arab Spring and during the Libyan crisis the AU was missing in action and this damaged the AU as the praised successor to the Organisation of African Unity. The AU lost time, lost credibility, we lost lives, and the western dependency was no longer a colonial conquest but a necessity to do what an African organisation could not do. DM


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