24 March 2011

Libya: National Crisis - Another Example of AU Impotence

WESTERN governments have double standards and breathtaking hypocrisy when it suits them in propping up some of the most hideous and undemocratic regimes in Africa and elsewhere. What I am however most concerned about for now is the impotence of the African Union (AU) in finding "African solutions to African problems", as we get told ad infinitum!

Media reports over the past week suggested that President Jacob Zuma, Sadc mediator in Zimbabwe's troubled power- sharing dispute, was sending missions to Harare and Tripoli to help find solutions to political conflicts and stalemates in these two countries.

The plan for Libya, as reported in the South African media, was for Zuma's envoy to join other members of the High Level Panel appointed by the AU such as Uganda, Mauritania, South Africa, Mali and the Republic of Congo tasked with finding a lasting solution in the political crisis in that troubled country. Zuma told his country's National Assembly last week that South Africa would coordinate its position on Libya with other members of the AU.

"South Africa supports the position of the African Union with regards to the Libyan question and will work within the ambit of the AU," Zuma's office said last Friday. But by Saturday the complexion of the Libyan crisis had dramatically changed. The UN Security Council, with the support of the Arab League and other regional groupings, supported the imposition of a No- Fly Zone on Libya, and adopted Resolution 1973 which authorised international air attacks against Libya.

The US, UK and France on March 19 launched missiles and airstrikes at targets in Libya to halt attacks on rebel - held towns in the east of the country. The coalition ordered Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi to withdraw his forces from major cities after weeks of fighting that left hundreds dead, in the bloodiest of popular uprisings to have swept north Africa and the Middle East over the past two months.

Then reports emerged this week that the special AU panel established to negotiate a solution for the Libyan crisis had been denied permission to enter the country. According to the reports, the panel had requested permission for the flight carrying its members to Libya to comply with UN Security Council resolution that imposed a no -- fly zone on Libya. This is after weeks during which thousands of Libyans had been killed by pro- Gaddafi forces.

The feeble steps by the AU condemning the violence and marshalling a mediation panel are now a rather pathetic sideshow alongside the actions of the wider international community, which has taken the bull by the horns -- despite my grave reservations about air strikes -- to save Libyan civilians who were being systematically slaughtered by a rather deranged man who now seems to have lost all sense of what is right or wrong. I am registering my grave reservations precisely because I do not know why the West gets involved in these unending wars which at the end of the day they find difficult, if not impossible, to get out. Witness the unending conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan for example!

The Libyan crisis is yet another glaring example of the impotence of the AU in its declared resolve to find African solutions to African problems. It defies logic that the AU was sending a negotiating panel to a war zone where hundreds of unarmed civilians were being butchered by a government they should be looking up to for protection. It would be interesting to hear how the AU panel intended to proceed to bring Gaddafi and the rebels fighting against him to the negotiating table under those dangerous conditions.

Without offering any viable alternative, AU had opposed any form of foreign military intervention in Libya, though the three AU members on the UN Security Council, Nigeria, South Africa and Gabon, voted in favour of the no-fly zone. The AU Commission is due to hold a meeting in Addis Ababa today, with representatives from the League of Arab States, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the European Union and the United Nations to discuss ways of resolving the crisis in Libya.

This sounds like a case of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. This is one of the major weaknesses of the continental body -- its inability to be pro-active rather than reactive to spontaneous situations confronting Africa.

African leaders need to appreciate that there are times when mere platitudes and bombastic rhetoric are not enough -- when actions speak louder than words. Indeed, words cost little. Actions talk best.

The Libyan crisis follows similar uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt where incumbent leaders were driven out through popular demand while the AU stood helplessly by. While Tunisia and Egypt try to establish new government systems to move their countries forward, the AU is conspicuous by its absence from the scene.

Indeed, events in the Ivory Coast where a civil war has already begun because a losing presidential candidate -- Laurent Gbabgo -- refuses to give way for the winner Alassane Quattara bears yet more testimony to the growing catalogue of AU bungling in policing the continent. The question can really be posed: what makes Africa so prone to dictators?

Although the AU has clearly come out in support of Quattara, whose electoral victory was endorsed by the international community, it remains to be seen what the AU will do about Gbagbo's defiance. Chances are that faced with a situation where it has to make a hard decision, the AU will buckle under and recline into its shell to let matters take their course. Very sad indeed. More importantly, where is Ecowas, the regional West African bloc, in this Ivory Coast crisis?

Even to Zuma, the Zimbabwean situation must seem a hopeless case. At a time when a country should be putting finishing touches to a comprehensive political reform process towards a free and fair election, there has been an upsurge of politically motivated violence and arrests targeting MDC supporters. Last weekend, scores of MDC-T supporters and innocent people were beaten up in Harare, Mutare and other parts of the country on suspicion they were MDC supporters.

Cabinet ministers belonging to the opposition MDC were threatened with a beating by junior policemen when they tried to address a party rally in Chitungwiza. While the police banned rallies of other parties, Zanu PF was allowed to go ahead with its anti-sanctions campaign in which scores of people were forced to participate.

These are the crucial issues that Zuma and his facilitation team should tackle if their efforts to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis are to bear fruit. The much-touted Zuma roadmap for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe will remain a well meaning slogan and nothing more unless there are decisive measures to compel Zanu PF and its supporters to cease political violence forthwith.

Events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown that you can suppress the will of the people for only so long, but a time comes when people will rise and say enough is enough.

Bornwell Chakaodza is a veteran journalist and former Editor of The Herald and The Standard newspapers.

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