Western powers intervened in Libya to save lives because no one else would

Monday March 28 2011


Dear President Museveni,

I have a great sympathy for Africa and Africans and would do almost anything legal or moral to encourage Africa’s emancipation and the empowerment of the individuals who live in it.

That is not to say that I respect the current batch of African leaders, although in fairness, I cannot randomly tar all with the same brush.

I specifically exclude you from these observations because I have no knowledge or opinion of your politics, leadership style or qualities, and anyway, perhaps there are in Africa, true leaders concerned only with the well-being of their people.

Perhaps you are one of them. In which event, more power to your arm.

However, the views that you espouse for the West keeping its hands off Africa, are the same that permits the daily atrocities that occur throughout Africa.

The pity is that the greater neighbourhood of the international community, starting with regional alignments and ending up with the UN, do not intervene in many societies where only brutality rules.

Perhaps in the case of Libya, as has been observed, it is the oil wealth that attracts the efforts of the West, Nato and perhaps the UN, to intervene.

Given Gaddafi’s propensity for brutality wreaked on his own people, simply because they have had enough of his rule and want him to be gone from their lives, I don’t really care what motivates whomever – the UN, Nato, the Arab League, the African Union, a coalition of the willing, or a suitably empowered domestic population.

Provided it results in Gaddafi’s removal, the motivation is irrelevant.

The problem with your views is that they are rooted in the self-interest of African rulers. Allow me to expound.

SADDC countries do not want to intervene in Zimbabwe because if they do, they are actually setting a precedent that may be turned against themselves, so they would rather sit back and watch the obliteration of entire swathes of the Zimbabwean people than risk setting that precedent.

The reason that the West does not involve itself in every regional conflict in Africa and elsewhere in the world is that logistics of such interventions are impossible. They would amount to an effort involving most of the world.

The last time that occurred was during the Cold War and the time before World War II. So the West deals with regional issues it believes it can influence effectively.

That does not mean that the West always picks its interventions wisely nor that its decisions are not motivated by self-interest, but as they say, hindsight is the only form of perfect vision in the universe.

There is another even more compelling reason for the West’s reluctance to be the world’s policeman. It is fully aware that for societal change to be legitimate, it must be driven by the society concerned.

Its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught and continue to teach that lesson, along with its experiences with colonialism, so, it needed the backing of the Arab League, tacit or explicit, along with the support of the people of Libya, for intervention in Libya.

Having got that legitimacy through the UN Security Council resolution 1973, instead of “putting boots on the ground”, it has limited its intervention to preventing Gaddafi and his family-controlled military, bolstered by foreign mercenaries, from wreaking the havoc Gaddafi promised for his own people. How can that be wrong?

The folly was that the international community took so long to get its act together and the tragedy is that it cannot put boots on the ground and then withdraw, having neutralised Gaddafi’s hired thugs, to allow the Libyan people to sort out their own politics.

As to the AU mission to Libya, there is an expression, “too little, too late”. The AU should have got to Libya the moment the conflict began to look likely.

If it had done so and encouraged Gaddafi to listen to the Libyan people’s cry for political liberation, perhaps it would have done some good, but I doubt that it can now present such arguments and whether Gaddafi would listen.

But it would have been great for the AU to have got off its collective posteriors and actually tried to do their bit for Libyans. I would have a greater respect for the AU.

It seems to be almost a face-saving act of political opportunism than a meaningful contribution to the resolution of the conflict and the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.

As to Gaddafi’s history in support of Africa, if in my youth I had been a paragon of virtues but in my mid-life I changed and became a mass-murderer, would my history justify my new-found anti-social behaviour? I think not.

Mr Barri is a programmer in South Africa.