The African Union Says “No” to the Libyan Rebel Leadership – By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The writer, Dr Michael J.K. Bokor
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council held an emergency meeting in Addis Ababa today and decided not to recognize the Libyan rebel leadership (National Transitional Council) as the legitimate government of Libya.

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Instead, the AU has called for an immediate ceasefire and “an all-inclusive transitional government” in Libya that would take in members of Gaddafi’s administration.

This stance is not unexpected. It has long been rearing its head and any astute observer of the Libyan crisis and the clear-cut differences between the AU’s proposals for resolving it and NATO/NTC’s military campaign will not be surprised that it has finally dawned.
Is the African Union using this stance as a protest against the manner in which it was humiliated and sidelined by the proponents of the military campaign? Or is the Union only taking this stance to suggest that it has a clout to influence affairs on the African continent or that it sees itself as a match-maker in this Libyan case?

One fundamental question emerges: What does the AU see wrong about recognizing the NTC that those of its member-countries recognizing the NTC don’t?

Of course, in justifying the AU’s stance, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma gave some reasons: the African Union would not recognize the NTC as the legitimate government as long as the fighting continues.
“If there is fighting, there is fighting. So we can’t stand here and say this is the legitimate [government] now. The process is fluid. That’s part of what we inform countries—whether there is an authority to recognize,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

So, the AU’s argument is that for as long as the fighting continues, it is not clear who constitutes the government of Libya worthy of diplomatic recognition. This argument suggests that the AU will be more interested in further monitoring of the situation than rushing to give its blessing to the NTC.

This is a bold decision, which may mean different things to different people. The anti-Gaddafi elements will view the AU’s stance as a confirmation of their apprehensions and suspicions that the AU has been sympathetic to Gaddafi all along and sought to handle the Libyan crisis to favour him. They will view it as an affront to their quest for “liberation from Gaddafi’s 42 years of tyrannical rule” and use it as a trump-card to determine how a post-Gaddafi Libya will relate to the AU.

Whether describable as a “pay-back” or a spiteful but logical conclusion to the AU’s manouevres for conflict-resolution, this decision has far-reaching implications at different levels—for the NTC and its present and future relations with the AU; for the AU itself; for the individual AU member-countries (those that have unilaterally recognized the NTC or those that have refused to do so); and for the entire African continent (especially prospective migrant worker populations).

The decision may not directly affect the interests of the belligerent West and Arab League but may become a point of reference for any future dealings between them and African countries. Knowing the West for its arm-twisting tactics, it can’t be ruled out that some in authority may want to use this AU decision to punish some African countries that approach them for assistance. Most African countries can’t survive without pan-handling and this AU decision may be used against them one day. Who knows?

Whatever the case may be, I think that the AU has every reason to make this decision, especially in view of the disdain with which it has been treated by the West and its military establishment (NATO) as well as the rebel leadership. By dragging the AU through the mud, the rebels and their backers have already closed the door to the AU and prevented it from making any contribution toward resolving the crisis. And it is just a matter-of-course for the AU not to hurriedly recognize a political entity that has violently installed itself in office and disrespected its peace-making efforts. Why, then, should anybody expect the AU to give its blessing to the NTC in this circumstance?

Indeed, the AU’s decision is a demonstration of the Union’s disapprobation for the entire process leading Libya to the sordid situation in which it now finds itself—more humanitarian problems being created by the military campaign, which contradicts the original mission of NATO (UN Security Council Resolution 1973). Moreover, Gaddafi hasn’t yet relinquished power, though losing grounds.

I think that the AU is still embittered that its proposals for a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Libyan crisis was spurned by the West and its allies in the Arab World, which emboldened the rebels to insist on the military option for resolving the crisis.

Furthermore, the sidelining of the AU throughout the process, leading to the violence that has intensified in many parts of Libya, suggests that both the rebels and their backers have little regard for the continental body. The AU feels very much maligned and will certainly not easily be drawn into the herd mentality of recognizing the NTC at this stage of the battle for control of Libya.

Again, having inserted themselves into a purely African political conflict in Libya and having refused to involve the AU in efforts to resolve that crisis, it’s only logical that the AU will react this way in order to assert its status as no pushover. The AU has been treated as a nonentity in a conflict situation destroying one of its member-countries. We can’t blame the AU entirely for this situation, although it is imperative that the Union should be more proactive, re-organized, and retooled to tackle such responsibilities.

The AU’s decision may have some implications in economic terms, especially in the sense of migrant African workers who may want to seek job opportunities in Libya. Despite the atrocities being inflicted on migrant workers trapped in the violence, the possibility exists that Libya will continue to attract job seekers from Africa; and any backlash from this “uncooperative attitude” of the AU may adversely affect them in future.

Granted that intra-African business transactions are virtually non-existent, one doesn’t expect any huge negative effect on individual African countries. The NTC has already begun reassuring oil companies of France (Total), Britain (BP), Italy (ENI) and the US (Exxon Mobil) that they will be given priority attention in the Libyan oil industry. Construction companies too are most likely to benefit from the reconstruction programmes. Even before the dust settles, the rape of Libya by the West has begun.

African countries haven’t come up for consideration, apparently because none of them stands out as development partners. Many African countries benefited from Gaddafi’s magnanimity in supplying Libyan crude oil on favourable terms of payment. Probably, that may be missing from the equation under the new administration that is peeved at the AU’s decision.

The decision also has implications for the AU itself. As a collective, the AU has decided not to recognize the NTC; but unilaterally, some of its members have already done so. What does this split in ranks mean for the internal workings of the continental body itself?

We can see the deep cracks in the AU and predict that this polarization will adversely affect the Union’s operations and further portray it to the international community as a lame duck. Will the AU act swiftly to put its house in order or will it fail to do so and fall apart?

More importantly, what can the AU do to discipline those member-states (e.g., Nigeria, Senegal, The Gambia) that have unilaterally gone against the grain to recognize the NTC? Does the AU even have the capacity to take any action against such errant states? What will be the implications, especially if those states refuse to budge to its dictates and threaten to leave or go ahead to leave the Union?
Probably, the fear of losing those errant member-countries—which will definitely have a negative impact on the AU’s coffers because of the consequent withdrawal of contributions from those countries—may be a factor to prevent the AU from expelling those countries or taking any heavy-handed action with a negative backlash on the Union itself.

On the other hand, if the AU fails to discipline these errant countries, it will open the floodgates for future unilateral actions by its member-countries that may not work to the Union’s advantage. Once the precedent has been set that countries can violate the AU’s norms and go unpunished, we should expect that the authority of the AU will continue to be challenged at will.

In this respect, then, the AU risks losing credibility and control over its members. I can foresee terrible times ahead of the AU. Unless the differences that have necessitated the unilateral decisions by the errant member-countries to recognize the NTC are identified and patched, the AU risks fracturing. The fault lines are clear.

The overthrow of the Gaddafi government has already spelled doom for the AU in terms of its finances. We know how much Gaddafi meant to the AU and why his removal from power has dealt a heavy blow to the Union.

The main issue now is what this decision means to the NTC. All along, the rebels and their leaders haven’t looked to Africa for any help. At worst, they have accused dark-skinned Africans of fighting on the side of Gaddafi, which is why they are being brutalized. I wonder if the AU’s decision will have any significant impact on the ongoing situation in Libya. Probably, it may be good for the record books at this stage, even though it could be the beginning of many unpredictable events to happen in future.

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of AfricaNewsAnalysis.