The King Of Africa


It’s official: Muammar Gaddafi is on his own. Russia and China have joined the United States, the EU — and pretty much the rest of the world — in condemning Gaddafi’s responses to protesters. The UN Security Council, not known for concord, has voted unanimously to refer Gaddafi to the international criminal court. After a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday, Kevin Rudd told ABC News 24 "The bottom line is this … on behalf of not just the people of Libya, not just on behalf of the people of the Arab world but, in fact, the people of the entire world, the time has come for Gaddafi to go and to go now for the sake of humanity."

What next? Will NATO troops be sent in? Will the UN impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent further strafing of civilians by the air force? "Fluid" is the word most frequently used by politicians and commentators to describe the situation, from the status of the interim government in Benghazi to that of Gaddafi’s troops in Tripoli. 

African leaders agree with Rudd and the UN that it’s time for Gaddafi to go. But the ties Libya holds with other African nations are more complex than those to NATO nations. Gaddafi is no small fish in Africa. He was elected chairperson of the African Union in February 2009 for a one year term and Libyan oil money has funded investments across the continent.

The Nairobi-based daily, the East African, makes clear the extent of Libyan businesses interests across Africa:

"The oil producing giant has used its wealth to invest outside of Libya in telecommunications in Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Southern Sudan, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Niger, Guinea Conakry and Benin; it has interests in hotels, textile manufacturing and food processing in Uganda, as well as oil engineering and retail in Kenya and Uganda.

"The Libyan Arab Portfolio, LAP Green, also has interests in telecoms and hotels in Rwanda as well as Kenya. Most of these businesses however, are insolvent and currently balanced on a knife-edge, with the possibility of their collapse no longer far-fetched should the Tripoli money tap dry up."

In a long analysis piece for BBC World, Farai Zevenzo examines Libya’s relationship to the rest of Africa, noting that while Ben-Ali looked to Europe and Mubarak to the Middle East, Gaddafi maintained close personal and trade relationships in Africa: "He had no qualms about pitching his tent in our capitals and could drive his motorcade across several African borders to attend a conference or just to dazzle us with oil money as an array of designer shaded curvaceous bodyguards attended to his needs."

Zevenzo makes it clear that Libya’s relationship to Africa extends beyond financial investments: "As mercenaries, reputedly from Chad and Mali fight for him, a million African refugees and thousands of African migrant workers stand the risk of being murdered for their tenuous link to him." Libya’s strategic significance to European countries, especially Italy, turned on its contribution to the management of refugee flows. Tens of thousands of refugees passed through Libya — and were sent back there. The situation on the ground in Libya is now serious enough for the Sudanese government to be making arrangements for the return of Sudanese workers from Libya, as Mona Al-Bashir’s details in the Sudan Vision Daily. As the borders between Sudan and Libya are opened to allow the movement of returnees, Al-Bashir notes the rumours in circulation that Darfuri armed groups are among those fighting for Gaddafi.
(See also NPR’s report on who is fighting for Gaddafi here.)

African leaders have issued public statements about Gaddafi but not everyone agrees they have gone far enough. The AU issued a communique about Libya on 23 February, days after the protests started to get ugly. The Union, the communique read, "strongly condemns the indiscriminate and excessive use of force and lethal weapons against peaceful protestors, in violation of human rights and International Humanitarian Law, which continues to contribute to the loss of human life and the destruction of property."

African NGOs thought the AU’s communiqué was too little, too late. The South African Mail and Guardian reports that regional and international NGOs are accusing African countries and particularly the African Union of failing Libyan people. The group of NGOs who met in Johannesburg last week, including Amnesty International and Civicus and African Democracy Forum "sees the AU’s failure to act decisively on the Libya issue as threatening progress towards democracy and respect for human rights in Africa." Human Rights Watch joined Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and INTERIGHTS to call on another pan-African body, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to impose measures to strong gross human rights violations in Libya.

Only Botswana has severed diplomatic ties with Libya — but the Botswana Gazette records significant opposition to the government’s decision. The Botswana National Front, disagreed with cutting ties: "This is a clear sign of a miscalculated, irresponsible and emotional outburst. The decision was hasty and premature and therefore closes any channels of communication which could help assist resolve the situation in that country. It also exposes inconsistencies in the country’s relations with other nations."

This question of exposing inconsistencies is taken up by the Ethiopian Reporter, this time in relation to the African Union’s communique. An editorial asks, "Should a demagogue who has utter disregard for human life be allowed to represent Libya in the African Union (AU)?" On the way to answering this question in the negative, the editorial acknowledges the problems that have beset the governments of many member nations of the AU:

"Most member countries of the AU have themselves a poor record in ensuring the prevalence of democracy and justice as well as respect for human rights. So, we cannot expect them to advocate vigorously for the realization of these ideals. It would be akin to engaging people housed in a hunger shelter in a debate over icecream flavors."

Nonetheless, the Ethiopian Reporter concludes, "the AU should immediately suspend Libya on account of this call for genocide. Deploring as disproportionate the force used by the Libyan government while over a thousand people have been killed is not sufficient and bound to cast doubts over the organisation’s integrity and resolve." 

Charles Onyango-Obbo argues in the East African that African leaders can learn a political lesson from the uprisings in north Africa about presidential term limits:

"In the past 10 years, many African leaders have scrapped term limits so they can rig elections and continue in office. No region has been spared. In the East African Community, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni did away with term limits in 2005. What Ben Ali and Mubarak’s fates, and now Gaddafi’s troubles, tell us is that the people want term limits. That if a leader resists having the term limits written into law, the people will eventually impose them from the street."

Whatever the UN resolves, the ongoing support of African nations for a new government in Libya will be critical. The Libyan people may have made it clear that Gaddafi’s term limit has well and truly expired, but they will need the help of their closest neighbours if they are to transform their nation into a functional democratic state.


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