The African Union (AU) plans to initiate a national dialogue on reconciliation among Libyan stakeholders in an effort to address the security crisis that erupted in 2011. This was announced at the recent AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda. However, it is still unclear how this dialogue will be put in place.
At the 27th AU summit in Kigali, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smaïl Chergui said that the AU chairperson had decided to initiate a meeting on national dialogue and reconciliation in Libya. 'Hopefully, at this stage, this is what the Libyan people need to bring them together, for reconciliation [to happen] and to see how we can really contribute to the effort of putting an end to the crisis,' he said.
The reconciliation plan follows the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement on 17 December last year by the majority of the Libyan delegates and representatives. This took place during a political dialogue in Morocco, which was facilitated by the United Nations (UN). The agreement paved the way for the formation of the Government of National Accord (GNA), consisting of a Presidency Council, Cabinet, House of Representatives and State Council.
On 9 June, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) commended efforts by current AU Chairperson Idriss Déby to convene the Libyan parties to discuss reconciliation. If the AU's national dialogue holds, the initiative will be one of the first concrete steps taken by the AU to directly address the challenges in post-Gaddafi Libya.
Most reports about international mediation in Libya focus on efforts by the UN. However, the European Union (EU), France, the United States, neighbouring countries and the AU have also been involved behind the scenes in seeking a political solution to Libya's crisis after the ouster of Gaddafi. The AU had been side-lined during the regime-change campaign led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of 2011, which strengthened the impression of the AU playing a minimal role in dealing with these challenges.
The humanitarian and security situation in Libya has long been a concern for the AU. As highlighted by the report of the AU Commission (AUC) in 2014, 'the fate of the Libyan people is inseparable from that of the rest of their African sisters and brothers, with whom they have historical ties. A stable and democratic Libya will be a tremendous asset for the continent. Conversely, an unstable Libya will first and foremost affect its African neighbourhood and beyond.'
The AU has consistently assured Libyans of its support through the transition process. After the 2011 uprising, the chairperson of the AU Commission (AUC) at the time, Jean Ping, visited Libya on 16 January 2012. Ping assured the National Transitional Council (NTC) of the continental body's willingness to contribute to stabilising the region, in collaboration with regional and international partners. The leaders of the NTC, which had been established on 27 February 2011, also emphasised their commitment to the AU and attended the AU summit in Addis Ababa in January 2012.
However, the inability of the successive governments in Libya to unite the country fostered the proliferation of rival militias and the spread of criminal and terrorist networks such as the Islamic States of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). The two rival parliaments in Tripoli and Tobruk between 2014 and 2015 further complicated the international response to the Libyan crisis.
In 11 June 2014, the AUC appointed Dileita Mohamed Dileita - former prime minister of Djibouti and a former member of the AU High-Level Panel for Egypt, as its special envoy to Libya. Dileita held a number of high-level consultations with Libyan stakeholders, neighbouring countries and international stakeholders, including the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
On 23 September 2014, the PSC established the International Contact Group for Libya (ICG-L). The ICG-L comprises all Libya's neighbours (Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia), as well as relevant multilateral and bilateral partners. These include other AU member states, the UN Security Council, the League of Arab States, the Community of Sahelo-Saharan States and the EU. The ICG-L, which has held five meetings so far, was mandated to facilitate a coordinated and harmonised international engagement in Libya.
In view of the external interference in Libya, the AU has consistently stressed 'the unity, territorial integrity, political independence and sovereignty of Libya' in all its communiqués. The AU insists that 'there can be no military solution to the current crisis in Libya' because military interferences in the country can only exacerbate and further polarise the situation, 'thereby making it more difficult to reach a peaceful political solution fully owned by the Libyan stakeholders'.
Based on this, the AU's response has focused on pushing for a political solution. In this context, the external powers that continue to provide military support to different factions in the region remain the focus of attention.
The AU fully supported the UN-facilitated political dialogue that began in January last year. Despite initial challenges, the political dialogue led to the signing of the agreement in December 2015. The nine-member Presidency Council of the GNA is led by Prime Minister-designate, Fayez al-Sarraj.
On 30 March 2016, key members of the Presidency Council of the GNA moved to Tripoli. Significant divisions between the western and the eastern part of Libya remain, and continue to undermine any political gains. In this regard, the agreement that formed the unity government provides avenues for the international community to consolidate the unification of Libya.
The AU's plan to convene a dialogue for national reconciliation in Libya highlights its willingness to ensure a return to stability in the country. The intended dialogue aims to bring together representatives of all Libyan stakeholders to address the issue of national reconciliation so as to tackle the divisions in the country.
The proposed AU-led national reconciliation dialogue will hopefully help Libyans to further unite in the fight against spoilers of peace. One such effort is the fight against ISIL, which pro-government forces and allies embarked on in May 2016. The AU could also use the opportunity to advance the need for security sector reform in the region so as to unite all militias under the government umbrella.
However, the AU has to ensure that the plan for national dialogue is followed up by concrete action, as well as the mobilisation of sufficient resources to implement the initiative.
Ndubuisi Christian Ani, Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Addis Ababa
A longer version of this article was first published by the PSC Report.