analysisBy Charles Onyango-Obbo
Nairobi — Though Africa's response to the UN-backed attacks on Libya is muddled, those like Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni who are crying loudest, have good reason to.
Even within the East African Community, where in the past three years the governments have been fairly united in their views on international issues, there are sharp divisions in their approach on Libya.
African presidents' response to the Libya crisis breaks down into three positions that have recently emerged:
The first position generally accepts the UN resolution that voted to use all necessary means to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, but is critical of the way the bombings are being conducted.
They believe the Western countries that are enforcing the no-fly zone are going beyond the intention of the resolution, and are instead seeking "regime change."
This qualified criticism of the ongoing military action is best evidenced in a long article written by President Yoweri Museveni and published in Ugandan newspapers last week.
While acknowledging that Libya's embattled leader Muammar Gaddafi had made many mistakes, including brutally repressing his people, he sharply criticised the attacks.
He called UN resolution 1973, which authorised military action to protect civilians, "rushed," and accused the West of "double standards."
In his view, the Libyan crisis should be resolved through dialogue between Gaddafi and the rebels.
Adopting a Museveni-like posture, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma also criticised the air strikes, suggesting they were part of a "regime-change doctrine." South Africa voted in favour of UN resolution 1973, and still supports the objectives of the resolution.
Kenya too moved towards a measured criticism of the air strikes, with Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka saying in parliament on Wednesday that he would have preferred negotiations with the embattled strongman rather than the aerial bombardments by the French, British and United States forces.
Because he said it was his view, it was not immediately clear whether that was the government's position too.
Libya was one of the countries the VP visited in the first round of the shuttle diplomacy that secured the backing of the African Union for Kenya's bid to defer the cases against the Ocampo Six at the International Criminal Court.
Gaddafi supported the Kenyan case. However, Kenya was one of the countries that voted on March 1 to suspend Libya from the UN Human Rights Council due to its government's violent attacks on protesters.
All 192 member nations of the United Nations General Assembly have voted to suspend Libya from the Human Rights Council.
It was one of the most solidly unanimous votes in the UN, prompting US permanent representative to the United Nations Susan Rice to describe the vote as "unprecedented" and "a harsh rebuke."
Second: The voices supporting the strike against Libya are led by another East African leader, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame.
In a brief interview with a reporter in London early last week, Kagame backed the bombing raids on Libya, arguing the situation in the North African country had degenerated "beyond" what the African Union could handle.
Kagame, who had just delivered a keynote speech at the Times CEO Summit Africa, said, "Rwanda's position is the African Union's position. The African Union's position was that there was a need to understand what was going on in Libya and based on that, then action taken be supported... But what was happening on the ground was beyond what Africa's position [envisioned]."
Third: On the opposite side of Kagame, are Zimbabwe and Algeria. In his typically pungent fashion, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on Monday described the Western countries acting against Libya as "bloody vampires" and called the UN resolution a "mistake."
"There is no reneging on the resolution any more; it's there, it's a mistake we made... we should have never given the West [the green light to act on Libya] knowing they're bloody vampires of the past; all this room to go for our people in Africa and try to displace a regime," President Mugabe said.
Significantly, he spoke after a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qoshan. China abstained on the UN vote.
In less dramatic tones, Algeria on Tuesday called for an immediate end to Western military intervention in Libya.
Algeria's state news agency on Tuesday quoted Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci as saying, "We judge this intervention to be disproportionate in relation to the objectives set out by the United Nations Security Council resolution."
Likewise, Namibia's President Hifikepunye Pohamba said the strikes amounted to interference in the internal affairs of Africa.
Nigeria's Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia likewise accused the international community of "double standards," by imposing a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Libya while doing little to end abuses in crisis-torn Ivory Coast.
"The contradictions between principle and national interest... have enabled the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya ostensibly to protect innocent civilians from slaughter, but to watch seemingly helplessly (in Ivory Coast) as... men, women and children are slaughtered in equal, even if less egregious violence," he said.
It would seem that, like the Arab League, most African countries initially supported the UN resolution against Gaddafi for tactical reasons -- it would not do to be seen to be defending someone who is accused of carrying out mass murder of protesters.
Also, their calculation could have been that the resolution of itself would be enough to frighten Gaddafi into stepping back from his attacks on civilians. It didn't.
Now that the attacks are on, they have introduced a new wrinkle.
Most African leaders seem frightened by the precedent they set.
Their fears will not be helped by comments by William Hague, Britain's Foreign Secretary who, speaking at the same Times Summit as Kagame, compared Mugabe and the embattled and discredited Ivory Coast "president" Laurent Gbagbo to Gaddafi and hinted Britain might play a role in changing the political situations in their countries too.
For all the noise, there is quite a bit of dry-eyed scheming by African leaders who are busy setting out their regional political stalls.
For Museveni, there is the concern that the Libya campaign will distract attention from something much closer home in East Africa -- Somalia, where he has troops serving in the peacekeeping force Amisom.
For the Nigerians, it is the failure of the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone in a West African troublespot, Ivory Coast. Furthermore, unlike Uganda or Rwanda, which have the luxury of being far away from Libya, Nigeria is separated from Libya to the north by Niger, and to the northwest by Chad.
Apart from Ivory Coast, there is an even bigger headache for Nigeria.
Various reports have it that Gaddafi hired nearly 10,000 Malian Tuaregs in his army as part of a sort of Foreign Legion, which his critics say is a mercenary outfit.
Observers say West Africa is quaking in its boots at the prospect of thousands of heavily armed and well-trained Tuaregs returning to Mali -- next door to Ivory Coast.
On Wednesday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, probably aware of the risks and wanting to seize the initiative, gave the strongest hint yet that he was willing to consider more forceful action to deal with Gbagbo.
A day later, James Gbeho, head of the West African regional body Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States), said the region's leaders had agreed that they "will apply to the UN for a mandate to militarily intervene [in Ivory Coast] as a last resort."
This confirms the possibility that when Nigeria's Foreign Minister Ajumogobia criticised the Libya attacks, he was mainly seeking to put the UN Security Council in a guilt-lock that would ensure they back tougher action on Ivory Coast.
Museveni too, whose government, together with Burundi, are the only AU states providing peacekeeping troops to Somalia, will hope he can force the UN Security Council's hand in the Horn of Africa.
That is why Museveni appeared to waffle in his criticism, attacking Gaddafi while faulting the US-led attacks on Libya -- because he did not want to come across as a Muammar apologist.
And, unlike Mugabe, he argued that the UN resolution was rushed, not wrong.
It is just as well. The US, sometimes acting alone, and Nato, provide critical support for Amisom.
If they cut back, the mission could collapse. It is easier and cheaper for them to buy Museveni's silence, so in the coming months the UN might come through with a more generous resolution on the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
For Africa, the UN resolution against Libya brought with it other complications even if there had been no military attack.
Countries are already under pressure to seize Libyan regime assets.
Five days before the UN resolution, there were media reports in South Africa that President Zuma had ordered the Treasury to freeze assets linked to Gaddafi and his associates.
"The process is underway and we are writing letters informing them that no money will be allowed to leave South Africa," Foreign Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said.
In Uganda, there was enough unease to force the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs James Mugume, to come out and deny that Libyan government assets in the country would be seized.
However, the main independent newspaper, the Daily Monitor, reported there was still uncertainty over Libyan regime investments.
According to the Monitor, the Libya African Investment Portfolio (LAP) has investments of more than $375 million in Uganda covering different sectors including real estate, hotels, telecommunications, oil and manufacturing.
A day after that report, the government announced it was freezing the assets -- even though it opposes the bombing of Libya.
In Zambia too, the government has announced it will freeze Gaddafi family assets.
The danger for Libya is that even before the sanctions, its companies were embroiled in too many business and regulatory disputes, and the UN resolution could embolden rivals to pounce on them, or regulators to punish them.
According to the Monitor, and as reported in this newspaper at the beginning of the crisis, the LAP-owned Uganda Telecom is struggling to shake off a lawsuit demanding the payment of a combined sum of about Ush30 billion ($13 million) accumulated from alleged non-payment of interconnection charges for a period of about three years.
Its dispute with the country's largest telco, MTN, which is in court, deteriorated further two weeks ago when MTN announced it would sever its interconnection agreement with UTL over its failure to clear a Ush20 billion ($8.7 million) debt accumulated through non-payment of interconnection charges since 2007. UTL, however, disputes the debt.
Other players including Airtel Uganda and Warid Telecom have reportedly also threatened to take serious action against UTL if it doesn't clear a combined debt of about Ush12 billion ($5.2 million) that the two telcos say accumulated through non-payment of interconnection charges. The LAP Green Network has a 69 per cent stake in UTL.
In Rwanda, where the Libya Arab Africa Investment Company (Laico) has interests in a hotel, Novotel Umubano, and telecommunications, senior officials told The EastAfrican that it is in dispute with the government and regulator over failure to perform on its sale agreement.
In 2007, LAP Green bought 80 per cent of the capital of telecoms operator Rwandatel. The LAP Green Network is part of the Libya-Africa Investment Portfolio (LAP).
If the shooting and killing continues in Libya, and the push for sanctions against Tripoli becomes massive, it could be a nightmare for a continent that has only recently started to restore some international business confidence after years of failed state-managed economies and reckless nationalisation.
This is mainly because the trail of Libyan money in Africa is simply too long.
Libya has put $65 billion into sovereign wealth funds, including one specifically designed to make investments in Africa.
The money is invested through the $5 billion Laico, through Libya Oil Holdings, the Libya African Investment Portfolio and the Libyan Foreign Investment Company (Lafico).
The Libya Africa Investment Portfolio was launched with $5 billion in capital, but it is not clear how much cash it holds now.
LAP this year helped set up a London asset management firm called FM Capital Partners.
The head of the firm says it will invest about 40 per cent of the Libyan assets it has under management in African projects.
Another of the fund's projects is LAP Green Network, a mobile phone operator that has commercial operations in Niger, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Rwanda and is planning to launch operations soon in Chad, Sierra Leone, Togo and Southern Sudan.
LAP is also the main shareholder in Afriqiyah Airways.
The name is Arabic for Africa and it says its mission is to link African states to each other.
It operates routes that are poorly served by major airlines. Destinations include Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Bangui in the Central African Republic and Douala in Cameroon.
Laico has investments in hotels, banking, real estate, textiles, and aviation in South Africa, Madagascar, Comoros, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Central African Republic, Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Liberia, and Guinea
In the long-term, the collateral damage from the Libya crisis could stretch on for years to come, and leave a nasty taste in Africa's mouth.
Small wonder African presidents are doing strange loops and hoops over the no-fly zone.