AU fails in bid to strike deal on Libya conflict

Sunday May 15 2011

To those harbouring hope the decade-old African Union is an improvement over its predecessor, the Organization of African unity, little evidence exits. The AU’s handling of this year’s conflicts in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire illustrates.

In both countries, “The state is me” types sought to cling to power, ruthlessly. The AU responded the OAU-style, “a shaggy dog, but our dog,” figuratively speaking.

Eleven days ago, the AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping begged the Contact Group on Libya at a meeting Rome to support the AU and its High-level Committee’s efforts in Libya. The efforts aim at establishing peace, democracy, good governance, et al.

The committee comprises South Africa, Mauritania, Mali, and Uganda. The United States, the Arab League, and the European, with Britain, France, and Italy most hawkish, make up the Contact Group.

In all fairness, the AU formed the committee while Western nations and the United Nations haggled over what to do. The committee would have gone to Libya on a peace mission sooner had it not been for UN declaration of a no-fly zone and French and the US bombings. What the committee would have presented, and eventually did, to Gaddafi—the so-called road map—was a classic OAU formula: save our shaggy dog. Here are the road map’s elements: an immediate ceasefire, unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid, protection of foreign nationals, a dialogue, and suspension of Nato air strikes. Fine!

However, in his benga, benga, (Alleyways, and alleyways) outburst about a hunt of opponents, Gaddafi made clear his intention: to annihilate them. A ceasefire and suspension of air strikes would have only given Gaddafi time to establish a fait accompli, in his favour.

Therefore, it isn’t surprising the man South African President Jacob Zuma addressed as “brother leader” readily accepted the road map.

Unsurprisingly, the opposition, based in Benghazi, rejected it. Internationally, including the Arab world, it lacked takers. Evidently, only the AU failed to understand Gaddafi is the problem, had to exit. At the Rome meeting, Mr Ping ably argued why the conflict concerns African nations, especially Libya’s neighbours. Among the concerns are a spillage of arms into countries experiencing or emerging from conflicts, terrorism, and returning destitute migrant workers.

The Contact Group essentially bought Mr Ping’s, or rather AU’s argument, on a future road map, but with an unspoken rebuke, NO Gaddafi.

In Cote d’Ivoire, teams under the AU auspices streamed to Abidjan for months with offers, minus “Get out!” to Laurent Gbagbo, who had rejected presidential election defeat. Meanwhile, violence, most perpetrated by Gbagbo’s supporters, continued.

Finally, former rebels and supporters of the winner, Allassane Outtara, dragged Gbagbo from his bunker in Abidjan. UN peacekeepers and France readily lent lethal hands, another rebuke to the AU.

It would seem a problem exists in Ping’s sheikdom, the AU secretariat in Addis Ababa. Hardly any African leader has resources to look at the continent broadly for potential problems and possible solutions. That’s the secretariat’s job.

Additionally, it should provide the often hastily cobbled peace missions viable proposals, including actions against incorrigibly foul “shaggy dogs.” Unless the AU emissaries to Libya and Cote d’Ivoire ignored advice, the secretariat bungled the job.