HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsLandscape: The cost of change in Libya

Landscape: The cost of change in Libya


In the struggle against apartheid, Nelson Mandela always reflected on the use of violence and agonised that the cost of rebuilding a society broken by violence was enormous.

This is the tragedy of violent revolutions in terms of human cost, where you know that beneath the jubilant crowds, there is always a grieving mother, widow or orphan whose loss can never be restored.

And, of course, these will never be interviewed on CNN. This seems to be the reality of Tripoli today, six months after what started as a peaceful popular revolt.

Musa Ibrahim, Libya’s Internal minister, reported that on Sunday August 22 2011, 1 300 people were killed in Tripoli.

While these figures are subject to scrutiny, we can never underestimate the loss of life in Tripoli. The total cost of the revolution in terms of human life is still to be ascertained. However, there is no doubt that the figures are staggering.

This reality calls upon all people of peace to look beyond the celebrations in Tripoli, the statements of victory coming from Nato and Washington and ask: What is it that Africa should have done to handle the Libyan conflict better?

Addressing students at Free State University on August 20 2011, former South African President Thabo Mbeki said the conflict in Libya would have been resolved earlier had the West listened to African leaders.

We do not know what the African leaders told the West, but at least we know that Presidents Jacob Zuma and Goodluck Jonathan both voted for the no-fly-zone.

It can be argued that they did not know that the no-fly-zone resolution would be abused to include massacre of Libyan civilians.

Noted. But that tells us something — the African Union had no position on Libya. If the AU had a clear position on how to deal with the Libyan conflict, Zuma and Jonathan would have surely told the international community to stop in their tracks.

They had sufficient legal and moral power to chart the course of events in Libya and save lives.
They chose to go with the flow. Indeed to stop another from acting when you have no alternative would be culpable negligence.

Which leads us to look at the AU’s conflict resolution mechanisms. Does the AU have the capacity to deal with a conflict?

The AU has been accused of being a club of despots whose leaders in their individual right lack the moral authority to criticise each other.

Since the transformation of the AU from the Organisation of African Unity, Gaddafi has been closely involved in the politics of the Union, strongly pushing for the Union Government when he assumed the AU chairmanship in February 2009.

When the AU met in July 2011 in Equatorial Guinea, they were split among themselves with some supporting Gaddafi and others opposing him.

However, despite the divisions, the AU’s ad hoc committee on Libya had produced a roadmap for dealing with the crisis.

The roadmap was accepted by the Libyan government, but was initially rejected by the protesters because of the proposed involvement of Gaddafi in the negotiations.

I can only think it was because it was a solution that was proposed a little late when the United Nations Security Council already had a resolution and Nato had started bombing.

The protesters therefore saw hope in Nato than in the divided AU which had proved to be more reactive than proactive. They later agreed to the proposal, but it was rather too late.

Libya was on fire. Nato was bombing. The International Criminal Court was issuing warrants of arrests.

Looking back, perhaps if the roadmap had come out earlier, and been marketed well among the membership as the position of the AU, the tide of things would have changed.

When Nigeria and South Africa voted for the no-fly zone, they did so as individual members and not as members of the AU.

I do not blame them. There was no alternative plan on the table to avert bloodshed.

The plan that was there was one presented by the Arab League, that of the no-fly-zone.

But what are the tools available to the AU for responding to crisis?

This body does not have a history of swiftness when it comes to crises on the continent. The UN issued a warning about the pending disaster in the Horn of Africa as early as November 2010.

The AU through its commission only called for the Pledging Conference in August 2011 to fill in the gaps left by the international community.

The story is the same with Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe. What could be done for the sake of the future?

The AU must begin work right now. What happened in Libya and Ivory Coast cannot be accepted as the norm for dealing with conflict.
The cost is too much to ignore.

A new government in Libya will have to deal with not only the victims of the outgoing regime, but the victims of the Nato bombings and the rebel movement. This is not easy.

The AU has got a Peace and Security Council established by the Protocol Relating to the Peace and Security Council (PSC) which came into force in December 2003.

The functions of the PSC include the promotion of peace, security and stability in Africa; preventive diplomacy and the maintenance of peace.

This body is working way below capacity and needs rejuvenation and integration with the entire arsenal of the African human rights mechanisms.

The PSC needs to establish a permanent “peace army” of international mediators working flat out on the Africa case. It needs to work with such bodies of respected negotiators and peacemakers as the Elders.

The PSC must be ready to move swiftly to avert catastrophe and provide the member states with guidance.

If this had been done in the Libyan case, the AU would have prevented the disastrous Resolution 1978 and thousands of lives could have been saved.

The capacity of the AU goes way beyond the PSC and there must a holistic plan to deal with crisis using all the tools within the body.

These include but are not limited to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, the Pan-African Parliament, the Economic, Social and Cultural Council and regional economic communities like Ecowas and Sadc.

Never again must Africa wait for third parties to come with bombs when there are many other tools that need to just be sharpened in time.

No matter how much a revolution can achieve, no success can exorcise the society of the haunting memory of her children lying in mass graves.

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