Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Ugandan ambassador to the United Nations, presented June 15 the African Union’s official view of the conflict in Libya to the United Nations Security Council. Dr. Rugunda emphasized the demand for a ceasefire and a negotiated solution to the conflict between Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi and insurgents, and sharply chastised the UN’s leadership for brushing aside the AU’s concerns. The presentation came two days after a speech to the African Union by Hillary Clinton, who demanded that the organization and its member states break relations with the Libyan regime.
The AU was founded in 2002 as a successor to the Organization of African Unity. It has 53 member states, whose total population is nearly 1 billion. The only African state not a member of the AU is Morocco, which has stayed out in protest of the admittance of the Sahrawi Republic, whose territory Morocco claims, by the OAU. The Moroccan armed forces have been battling Sahrawi guerilla forces led by the Polisario Front.
Supporters of the Libya War accuse the AU of being bought and paid for puppets of Gadaffi, but the real situation seems to be more complicated. Although it is true that Libya has paid for many of the expenses of the AU and provided a large amount of development aid to some of its member countries, not all of them approve of the Libyan leader.
Even before the present conflict broke out, there were strong disagreements between some important AU countries and Gaddafi. These disagreements have involved Libyan intervention in some civil wars, plus Gadaffi’s proclaimed aim of creating a “United States of Africa” under Libyan leadership, a goal the government of South Africa, for example, considers quixotic. The fact that Gadaffi has made a practice of showing up at international events in the company of African kings and princes, whom he proclaims to be the continent’s “natural” leaders, is an annoyance for African leaders who regard such figures as being potentially divisive troublemakers.
The main current goal of the AU is integration, i.e. development of political and especially economic ties among African nations that can act as a counterweight to the financial power of former colonizers, especially France and the U.K., as well as the United States. The attacks on Libya are seen by many in Africa and beyond as part of a plan to consolidate the economic and political power of France especially within the African continent, perhaps also to pre-empt growing Chinese influence.
Libya has plentiful oil, natural gas and underground water reserves, and has been playing a large role in banking and finance within the African continent, which potentially undercuts the might of former colonial powers such as France, as well as that of international monopoly capital, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
In remarks at a meeting between the Security Council and the African Union High Level ad hoc Committee on Libya, Dr. Rugunda criticized both Gadaffi and the NATO powers, who began a bombing campaign against Libya on March 18 under the cover of a Security Council resolution that authorized creation of a no-fly zone to protect civilians in rebel held areas. Rugunda reminded the Security Council that the AU had, from the start, called for dialog, and that continued “ignoring the AU for three months and going on with the bombings of the sacred land of Africa has been high-handed, arrogant and provocative. This is something that should not be sustained … Certainly, no constellation of states should think that they can recreate hegemony over Africa.”
Rugunda questioned the stance of the rebels and the NATO powers that Gadaffi must go before any ceasefire and dialogue can commence.
However, Rugunda did not let Gadaffi off the hook completely. “Gadaffi can not ignore the fact that the rebels took over Benghazi and his authority melted away before NATO came in to confuse the picture. The pre-NATO uprising in Benghazi was, mainly, internal. Gadaffi may say that they were organized by Al Qaeda. Even if that is so, it is a fact that some Libyans in Benghazi threw out Gadaffi’s authority. Therefore, Gadaffi must think and agree to reforms, resulting into [sic] competitive politics.”
Rugunda reiterated the demand for a ceasefire and talks, and proposed the good offices of the African Union to provide a venue and peacekeeping forces.
The NATO intervention, supposedly to protect civilians from air attacks by the Libyan military, has morphed into a full-scale attack, with objectives many see as regime change or even the killing of Gadaffi.
NATO bombs have killed not only Gadaffi troops but also civilians and even some rebels. In addition to UN Security Council members who abstained from voting for the enabling resolutions (China, India, Brazil, Russia, Germany), many other states and groupings, including Cuba and the ALBA group of Latin American states, have now stepped forward with demands for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement.
At writing, an AU delegation was once again in Libya talking to both rebels and pro-Gadaffi representatives.
Photo: Norwegian F-16 flying over Suda Bay as part of the enforcement of the No-Fly Zone. Courtesty NATO.