ANALYSIS:Libya Exposes the African Union – Argues Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

While North Africa burns, the AU vanishes from the radar screen, leaving the problem for the international community to solve

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The turbulence in North Africa has very good rewards for the citizens whose persistent protests have toppled regimes headed by political dinosaurs in Tunisia and Egypt.

From a wider angle, these happenings (especially the humanitarian one in Libya) expose the lethargy and painful paralysis of the African Union, a continental body that one would have expected to be playing a frontline role in redeeming the continent from such political upheavals if it had indeed been properly constituted and focused on tackling pertinent problems of the continent. The AU lacks the mechanism to be proactive and has failed. Its existence is not warranted.

Rather paradoxically, the state of affairs in these North African countries had been known to the AU all these years but it didn’t deem it feasible to take action on. Let nobody tell me of any clause in the AU Charter that prohibits interference in countries’ internal affairs. It’s just a useless clause that is designed to protect the autocratic leaders now paying for their senselessness while in power. Couldn’t the AU take pre-emptive measures to bring those autocrats back into step to avert what we are witnessing today?

For all the decades that the leaders of these North African countries were in power, the AU glorified them as “senior members”; but the quick downturn of their fate proves how cancerous they’ve been all along. And their cancer rubs off on the AU too to such an extent that it has gradually made itself odious. The AU is nothing but a forum for idling by questionable characters who meet and compare notes on their mismanagement of affairs. The AU itself is a problem that Africans have to solve first.

While North Africa burns, the AU vanishes from the radar screen, leaving the problem for the international community to solve. Once again, the AU has led Africans to come across as people incapable of solving their own problems. How will we ever be respected if we continue to portray ourselves as “the white man’s burden”?

The current sordid happenings in Libya further expose and reaffirm the dormancy and uselessness of the AU. Is it not troubling that despite all that is happening, especially the humanitarian crisis in Libya, the continental union hasn’t said anything to register its voice on the turmoil that is tearing apart those countries? And to think that the AU has ever had Col. Gadhafi as its Chair? And that a group of chiefs from Ghana were in Libya to crown him as the “King of Kings”?

On impulse, we may be perturbed by this lethargy but we shouldn’t if we realize that the AU is nothing but a sad reflection of the lethargy that has gripped the continent since time immemorial, we may understand issues. I am not in the least taken aback at all because I have had this hunch all along that the AU is an albatross hanging around the necks of those whose sweat and toil continue sustain it.
Again, if we consider the fact that the current Chair of the AU (Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo) is equally guilty of the very sordid deeds for which Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gadhafi are being toppled or for which those countries are in turmoil, we should appreciate the depth of the lethargy. We shouldn’t expect such a person (or those like him in other countries) to condemn his colleagues being toppled in North Africa. He is nursing the fear of suffering a similar fate if his people become emboldened enough by the fire raging through North Africa to take him on. Thus, being mute seems to be a good way out. But it smacks of something more ominous. It brings to the fore the plight of Africa—a continent that lacks leaders to move it forward.

This dormancy is disheartening not only because it exposes Africa as “the white man’s burden” but because it tells its own story about our leaders’ inability to solve problems even though they have the capacity to foment trouble through their misguided rule.
So far, stern decisions and actions have been initiated by the Arab League, the United States, Britain, and France to reinforce measures put in place by the European Union and United Nations to force Gadhafi out of the way. Imposing an arms embargo on Libya as well as freezing Gadhafi’s assets and those of his family and close associates is expected to close further the noose around their necks. Then, imposing a travel ban on them suggests that they are being immobilized to be captured and dealt with. Furthermore, the decision to refer Gadhafi to the International Criminal Court makes him a war criminal to be tried and punished for the atrocities inflicted on his own people. In all these measures, the objective is clear: to get Gadhafi to listen to reason and grant the wish of the Libyans. It is only then that the turmoil will abate.

What has the African Union been able to do to support these international efforts? NOTHING. The AU hasn’t complemented these international efforts in any way to create the impression that it can solve its own internal crises. As is the case, the AU has left the problem to the international community to tackle. Then, when the dust settles, the member-states will expect to be respected as sovereign and independent states whose leaders will answer calls to congregate at talk-shop sessions by the AU to exchange notes on how to misrule their countries. That’s the impression this lethargy on the part of the AU has created, which further deepens public resentment for it.

More troubling is the fact that the AU hasn’t spoken out to condemn the violence going on in Libya nor has it done anything concrete to assist in evacuation efforts. We know that many citizens from many African countries are part of the hordes of refugees streaming out of Libya and desperately needing support. The AU hasn’t begun any concerted effort to solve this refugee problem nor has it given any indication that it is part of those willing to solve the problem.
Notwithstanding the AU’s lethargy, the reality of the situation is irreversible. By their victory, the protesters have already sent a strong signal to insensitive leaders in African countries that they can no more take the people for granted. The real “people’s power” has emerged and will be exercised to rid the system of undesirables. That’s a strong message to scare the current membership of the AU.

Hello, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe; Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo; Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compoare; Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos; and many others (who may not be long on the seat but are known for their corruption, tyranny, and self-serving politics). Are you listening? The tide is gradually coming your way and you’d better prepare for the wrath of the people you’ve suppressed all these years. You can’t escape from the people’s wrath!

The measures by the protesters in North Africa have paid off and those in Tunisia and Egypt can now look for opportunities to prevent a resurgence of such autocratic and long-serving regimes. The Tunisian and Egyptian examples are as eye-opening as they are inspirational. At least, they’ve opened the world’s eyes to the ills of long-serving governments headed by autocrats who made the mistake to equate the people’s patience and tolerance to their weakness.

At least, Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak have now had the wool off their eyes and can feel what it is like to be at the other side of the political curtain from where they are feeling the heat. Now shorn of all the privileges and power that they had wielded hitherto, they must be licking their wounds—and will do so for long as pressure continues to mount on them. So far, moves by countries holding their assets to freeze those assets should instill fear in them that their future is bleak. Knowing that the politician and his assets cannot be parted for long, I am confident that measures to deprive them of what they had accumulated over the years will achieve the desired results. And now pushed to the wall, the last blow should be dealt to them as they are dragged before the International Criminal Court to be prosecuted and punished for their part in harming their own people.

Additionally, clipping their wings further through a travel ban will make them sitting ducks to be picked up to face justice. The fate of these two deposed Presidents (and the calamity befalling Libya’s embattled “strong man”) should be a lesson to all others elsewhere who have abused the people’s trust and turned national politics into an avenue for self-aggrandizement. There are many of such Presidents still hanging on to power in other parts of Africa who must be counting the hour by now. The bell is tolling for them.

All-in-all, the inspiration from Tunisia and Egypt is limitless and will surely rouse action against them. The time has come to end all those dictatorships once and for all. Maybe, it is not too late to take on the AU itself through a coordinated action to either make it function to serve the interests of the continent or fold up. It shouldn’t be allowed to continue being a drain on our resources.