ANALYSIS: For Once, the African Union Stands Tall… – By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The writer, Dr Michael J.K. Bokor
After many years of uncertainty on how to carve a niche for itself and be respected in the international community, the African Union (AU) seems to be discovering itself. Even if it hasn’t yet completely persuaded us that it is taking concrete steps to solve our problems, the decision it made at the just-ended conference in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, paints a different and positive picture of a continental union that doesn’t any more want to remain an underdog in international politics. This news from Malabo is refreshing.

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The AU has decided that no African nation will execute the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant issued for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. At the end of the summit in Equatorial Guinea on Friday, the AU said that the IIC’s warrant (issued on Monday) hampers efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict between Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels fighting his government.

An assembly of the summit decided that “AU member states shall not cooperate in the execution of the arrest warrant,” according to a text of the decisions, reported by the AFP.

I don’t think it is too premature to congratulate the Heads of State for breathing some life into the AU and giving clear indications that they are working collectively to regain lost grounds in the estimation of citizens of the African continent. I am momentarily delighted at what has been reported from the Malabo summit.

This decision by the AU shouldn’t be misinterpreted by anybody as an affront to the ICC or an attempt to shield Gaddafi against prosecution for alleged crimes against humanity or any other for which the ICC has issued the warrant for his arrest. It is a logical response to a palpably bad and inopportune move.

As I have already pointed out, the ICC’s double standards and the ungodly zeal with which it rushed into isolating Gaddafi, his son (Saif al-Islam Gaddafi), and his brother-in-law and intelligence chief (Abdullah al-Sanussi) for investigation while turning a blind eye to similar happenings in other countries cannot be supported by the principles of probity.

By acting swiftly to indict the three, all the ICC has done is to portray itself as an accomplice in the ongoing military efforts by the West to eliminate Gaddafi and his government. Thus, the ICC has patently positioned itself as the judicial wing of the anti-Gaddafi machine to do the hatchet job.

Additionally—and as rightly pointed out by the AU Commission Chair, Jean Ping—the ICC’s arrest warrant was a deliberate attempt to thwart the AU’s efforts at working toward the use of non-violent political and diplomatic methods to resolve the Libyan crisis. It was a deliberate attempt to shove the AU out of the way to create the impression that Africa is still the white man’s burden.

And as the AU noted, the warrant “seriously complicates the efforts aimed at finding a negotiated political settlement to the crisis in Libya, which will also address, in a mutually reinforcing way, issues related to impunity and reconciliation.” Thus, the AU has every right to brush it aside.

The AU’s political roadmap is, invariably, at variance with that arrest warrant and the military campaign that the West has persistently used as its option for solving the purely political problem in Libya. That tunnel-vision approach has been responsible for the worsening of the conflict. But fearing that the stalemate in the military situation will drag on, the West has sought to use the ICC as the judicial clout to push Gaddafi further to the wall.

The Political (and now judicial) authorities orchestrating the airstrikes against anything considered pro-Gaddafi have forgotten that civilians cannot be protected through bombing raids. By bombing installations and residential areas in Libya, the International Coalition (now NATO) has caused serious humanitarian problems and is not doing what the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1973 called for. Even if that effort was made in the first few days of the military campaign, it ended up being relegated to the background as the anti-Gaddafi hate soared and the urge to eliminate Gaddafi took control.

Of course, the West has so far beguiled itself into believing that it can solve the crisis through an intensification of airstrikes; but as evidence reveals, that approach is deceptive. It may cause more havoc but not prove to be any workable solution. Neither will the ICC’s arrest warrant provide the much-needed abracadabra.

The AU knows the futility of all these measures and has stuck out its neck to kick against it in the hope that such a stance will create some elbow room for it to wriggle through in enforcing its political roadmap for a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the crisis without giving NATO any chance to further devastate Libya.

I wholeheartedly welcome this AU decision and hope that it will be defended and stuck to in every sense. The AU must not allow itself to be bullied or undermined by those who think that military might is right. After all, the Libyan crisis is an African problem that must be solved by Africans who know better how to jaw-jaw and not war-war just because one has new weapons to test. Any involvement of outsiders must follow the terms of an agreed-upon non-violent blue-print. The AU has one, which NATO must yield to.

I have more than one reason to be optimistic that the AU is gradually waking up from the long slumber in which it has been while its house was on fire. Not only do I find the AU’s resolute stance against the ICC’s arrest warrant for Gaddafi and his henchmen to be heartwarming but I also acknowledge the AU’s justification for not implementing the earlier arrest warrant against Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in 2009 on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Of course, supporting the AU’s stance doesn’t in any way mean that I support the atrocities that were committed. I abhor those horrendous killings but don’t side with the manner in which the ICC handles cases involving Africa. Just like the AU, I feel the ICC is acting with the highest level of hypocrisy.

And to prove its case, the AU went a step further to absolve Chad, Kenya, and Djibouti of any wrongdoing for having received Bashir since the warrant against him was issued, saying they were “acting in pursuit of peace and stability in their respective regions.”

Here is what the AU has to say in clarifying matters, as revealed by Jean Ping: “We support the fight against impunity, we do not support impunity, we are not even against the Criminal Court… However, we are against the way justice is being rendered because … it looks as if this ICC is only interested in trying the Africans…

“Does this mean that in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Gaza, in Chechnya, there is nothing happening there? It is not only in Africa that there are problems. So why no one else except the Africans are being tried and judged by this court?”

These are powerful declarative statements that should be repeated until they sink. For obvious reasons, the AU’s rhetoric is timely and appropriate for the occasion, more so with the clear disclaimer that the union is “not against the ICC but the way it appeared to be targeting the continent,” as explained by the AU Commission Chair, Jean Ping.

The AU seemed to be in the mood to call the shots, which is refreshing to know because for far too long, it has failed to act when most expected to do so, creating the impression that it is just not well-cut-out to solve the continent’s problems. But as this outcome of the Malabo summit has revealed, the AU seems to be proving us (its critics) wrong, at least, if the implications of its decision should be considered in their entirety.

Fears have long been expressed that the AU is lethargic and docile just because it lacks the clout to deal with the West for fear of being denied the support the continent needs to avoid crumbling. Today’s strong words seem to be dispelling such negative impressions.

As if it won’t know any bounds, the AU also extended its venom to the United Nations, calling on its Security Council to intervene to stop legal action against Libya “in the interests of justice and peace in this country.”

This foray into the Security Council can’t, however, undo the damage that three of the AU’s own members (South Africa, Nigeria, and Gabon) had done by succumbing to pressure from the West to endorse the resolution authorizing the military campaign in Libya. But, at least, it suggests that the AU knows where to hit hard.

As to what the AU will do if its call falls on deaf ears, the suggestion has come from some observers that it should withdraw from the United Nations altogether. For obvious reasons—to be explored in another article—I have very serious doubts whether the AU can do so. Nonetheless, I am guardedly encouraged by the AU’s decision at the Malabo summit and hope that none of the member countries will turn round to stab the Union on the back.

This collective voice must resound loud enough and decisive action taken to protect the interests of the continent against any rampant destruction by the very European powers that scrambled for and partitioned Africa to serve their own interests for over 500 years and have now found a good ally in the United States to attempt returning to the continent to pick the pieces, disguised as solvers of humanitarian problems, in this era of insidious neo-colonialism. We must resist this new threat.

African leaders have the onerous responsibility to lead us ward off this creeping threat. Malabo has provided the spirit of resurgence, which must be sustained. If it has to take the plight of Libya to mobilize the people against these ravaging vampires, so be it. Gaddafi must definitely leave the scene, but the efforts to get him out of the way must not be over-stretched into the massive destruction of Libya.

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