Friday, April 01, 2011

Libya: Why African Union Avoided London Conference on Libya

By Jaya Ramachandran
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

PARIS (IDN) - The decision of the 53-nation African Union (AU) not to participate in the Libya Conference in London on March 29 has drawn little focus. But it is of profound significance and is rooted in the development of the AU and Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi's critical role in buttressing it.

AU officials said they could not attend the meeting due to 'organisational reasons'. But informed sources at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa maintained that the member countries were divided on their stand over Gaddafi.

Some AU members, including Rwanda, reportedly favour military action against the Libyan leader, and Gabon, Nigeria and South Africa had backed the UN Security Council resolution 1973 for the establishment of a no fly zone over the North African country.

"But the AU officially favours diplomatic means to find a solution to the escalating conflict in Libya," reported Tanzania's newspaper 'The Citizen'. Quoting informed sources, the newspaper said that ahead of the London conference, the AU had tabled a new proposal to end the crisis in Libya but the international community had remained reluctant to consider it.

In fact, the establishment by the no fly zone over Libya had prevented the AU's five-member panel with the mandate of seeking a peaceful settlement to the Libyan crisis to enter the country.

The newspaper said that delegates attending the London meeting convened at British Foreign Secretary William Hague's initiative were asked to focus on only one major issue -- give Gaddafi a chance to go into exile, with African nations or even Venezuela the most likely destinations, without any guarantee of not being tried by the International Criminal Court for "crimes against humanity".

The report said "the AU peace roadmap consists of an immediate ceasefire and fast political transition to be followed by democratic election". It added: "AU chief Jean Ping has expressed the AU's disappointment about the western military attacks on Libya."

In an interview with the BBC HardTalk programme, Ping criticized the Western-led international coalition involved in the no-fly zone over Libya saying that the AU was not consulted before the Paris meeting on March 19, 2011, which decided to deploy air strikes. Ping suggested that given these circumstances AU's participation in the London conference was going to be meaningless.

Explaining what the London gathering was for, Hague said on March 29: "The conference discussed the situation in Libya with UK allies and partners and took stock of the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. It considered the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people and identified ways to support the people of Libya in their aspirations for a better future."

"It is critical that the international community continues to take united and coordinated action in response to the unfolding crisis. The meeting formed a contact group of nations to take forward this work," Hague added.

More than 40 Foreign Ministers and representatives from key regional organisations attended the London conference. These included the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Secretary General Dr Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu from Turkey, the Prime Minister of Qatar, Foreign Ministers from "key regional countries" including Iraq, Jordan, UAE, and Morocco, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Foreign Ministers from across Europe and NATO members, along with Secretary General Rasmussen.

Lebanon, Tunisia and the Arab League, though through Ambassador Hesham Yousse, were also represented.

Asked whether the Libyan "opposition" was invited, the British Foreign Secretary said. "No. We invited international partners to this conference to discuss the international effort to support the Libyan people. Of course it is important that (we) develop and maintain our dialogue with key opposition groups in Libya including the Interim Transitional National Council, and we ensured this was done including in the run up to the conference. The Foreign Secretary spoke to Special Envoy Jabril on March 22 and invited him to London in the near future."

While the composition of the 20-member Libya Contact Group, which the London Conference decided to set up, and which would be meeting in Doha around middle of April 2011, is not known, the AU -- keen to move ahead with its peace initiative -- is widely expected to join the Group.

The AU's difficulties in hammering out a joint stance lie very much in the history of the Union: Muammar al-Gaddafi chaired it from February 2009 to January 2010. Together with Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, he has been providing 75 percent of the AU's budget.

Besides, Gaddafi was a driving spirit behind the establishment and strengthening of the AU, which succeeded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The heads of state and government of the OAU held an extraordinary session in July 1999 at Gaddafi's hometown Sirte and issued a declaration calling for the establishment of AU.

The July 9, 1999 declaration stated, among others: "In our deliberations, we have been inspired by the important proposals submitted by Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi, Leader of the Great AI Fatah Libyan Revolution, and particularly, by his vision for a strong and united Africa, capable of meeting global challenges and in shouldering its responsibility to harness the human and natural resources of the continent in order to improve the living conditions of its peoples."

They African leaders were driven by the desire to accelerate the process of integration in the continent to enable it play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems compounded as they are by certain negative aspects of globalisation.

The guiding vision was: "An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena."

This vision of a new, forward-looking, dynamic and integrated Africa was to be fully realized through relentless struggle on several fronts and as a long-term endeavour. Subsequently, the African Union has shifted focus from supporting liberation movements in the erstwhile African territories under colonialism and apartheid, as envisaged by the OAU since 1963 and the Constitutive Act, to an organization spear-heading Africa’s development and integration.