The African Union should take a leading role in the continent’s affairs and in finding a peaceful solution to the Libya crisis
Since the beginning of this year Africa has entered an eventful period. The Republic of Cote d’Ivoire underwent a post-election crisis; South Sudan will officially declare separation on July 9 after a national referendum on independence; the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt stepped down; domestic clashes inside Libya invited continuing air strikes from NATO; and Somalia, which has been in anarchy for two decades, was once again listed as the No 1 “failed state” by the United States for the fourth consecutive year.
All these have had a negative impact on Africa’s political and economic development, resulting in unprecedented challenges for the African Union (AU), which held its 17th summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea from June 23 to July 1.
Though the theme of the summit was “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”, with Libya still in turmoil the AU cannot justify itself if it did not discuss the ongoing conflict in Libya and clearly express its position in safeguarding African interests.
To be fair, over the past six months, the AU has made unremitting mediation efforts and tried to restrain the warfare. After the UN Security Council approved a no-fly zone over Libya, forces from France, the United Kingdom and the United States launched air strikes against forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi, causing civilian casualties and complicating the situation. The AU called for an immediate halt to the bombing as it went beyond the mandate of the UN Security Council and sought the beginning of negotiations.
As early as March 10, the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) charted a roadmap for peaceful resolution of the Libyan crisis. Later, the AU and some Western countries met with the two conflicting parties of Libya so as to reach a ceasefire as quickly as possible and start negotiations.
Taking advantage of the meetings of the Libyan Liaison Group held in Doha and Rome, and meetings with the EU Political and Security Committee and the UN Security Council, the AUPSC reiterated the need for an “African solution” to the conflict.
However, the US-led NATO forces are continuing air strikes against the government in Tripoli until Gadhafi relinquishes power.
From the beginning of the armed conflict, some Western leaders have been declaring that the Gadhafi regime had already lost “moral legitimacy” and he must step down. However, the continuation of outside military intervention has defeated the very purpose of the UN resolution to protect civilians and caused greater suffering for the Libyan people. The West is determined to remove Gadhafi at any cost and the International Criminal Court has now issued a warrant for Gadhafi’s arrest.
Through intervention in Libya some Western countries want to achieve their own purposes. First, to reverse the trend of the relationship between the West and Africa: Over the past 10 years, the AU has stressed the joint efforts of African countries in speaking with one voice and strengthening solidarity. At the past two EU-Africa summits, the AU held out against the West’s unreasonable demands for refusing the presence of the Sudanese and Zimbabwean presidents.
Second, some Western countries want to dominate African affairs in terms of the political process, economic development and external cooperation. Third, the West intends to indirectly suppress the cooperation between emerging economies and African countries, which is steadily growing.
In fact, the AU has perceived the West’s intentions. The extraordinary session of the AU held on May 25 expressed “surprise and disappointment” at the attempts to marginalize the continent and restrict its efforts to resolve the Libyan conflict.
Though some African countries support the position of the West, in general they adhere to a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis. The proposal drafted at the summit that the Libyan government and the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) hold transitional negotiations in Ethiopia is a move in line with Africa’s interests.
AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said at the opening of the summit that the AU opposes the NATO operations against Libya and will continue to seek a political solution. Now the problem is that with the support of some Western countries Libya’s TNC does not accept the new AU framework for ending the conflict. The AU needs to make greater efforts to fulfill its leading role in African affairs.
July 8, 2011
Huang Shejiao is a research scholar with the China International Studies Research Fund.