With its influence on the line, the African Union (AU) is rushing to convince Libyan rebels and government loyalists to enter peace talks. But AU members have struggled to distance themselves from their erstwhile benefactor, Muammar Gaddafi.
More than four months into a bitter armed struggle that has wrecked Libya and provoked a NATO bombing campaign, the African Union (AU) is scrambling to find a peaceful end to the fighting in the oil-rich country. South African President Jacob Zuma reportedly flew to Russia on Sunday to bolster proposed peace talks, which the AU hopes will soon bring Western-backed rebels and government representatives together in Ethiopia.
Like African leaders, Russia has sought to play a mediating role in the Libyan conflict. Moscow criticised a step-up in NATO air strikes targetting forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and frowned on France’s admission that it was arming rebel fighters, but it has also met with the rebel National Transition Council.
With its credibility once more on the line, the 53-nation AU body wants to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table. But it would like to do so without having to answer the one question on everyone’s mind: what will happen to Colonel Gaddafi in a post-war Libya?
The Libyan rebels have rejected previous peace plans that did not clearly call for Gaddafi to step down. On Friday, the AU presented a new plan to Libyan rebels that excluded Gaddafi from the negotiations.
The plan laid out steps for a ceasefire, national dialogue and transition to democracy, but omitted the issue of Gaddafi’s fate.
The Gaddafi question
The AU has said its members will not execute an International Criminal Court arrest warrant against Gaddafi. Nor does its latest peace plan make any direct criticism of the Libyan leader.
In an online article published by the French-language Slate Afrique on Tuesday, Moustapha Niasse, a former Senegalese prime minister and current opposition figure, explained that many African leaders were not ready to forsake Gaddafi.
“Gaddafi has invested heavily in Africa and in African culture. We don’t turn our back on an ally or a friend when he is in trouble,” Niasse was quoted as saying.
The embattled Libyan leader has not only invested heavily in the economies of regional neighbours and offered money directly to their leaders. Regional experts have been quick to remind that Gaddafi is also largely responsible for the AU’s very existence.
“It was in Libya, in Colonel Gaddafi’s own village of Syrte, that the idea of establishing the African Union was first drawn up,” said Francis Laloupo, a journalist and geopolitics professor in Paris.
“Libya is a huge financial contributor to the [African Union], and has earned significant political influence. As a consequence, the AU today is very embarrassed to deliver a moral and political decision on the Libyan crisis,” Laloupo told FRANCE 24.
While it is not easy for AU leaders today to forget Gaddafi’s role in the history of the organisation, or the signature on his checks, other observers think a divorce is inevitable. They say allowing the AU’s authority and influence to crumble merely to save Gaddafi may prove too heavy a burden.
“[Former Ivorian president] Laurent Gbagbo was backed by Angola and other African countries. But today, he has been forgotten,” said Tshiyembe Mwayila, director of the Pan-African Institute of Geopolitics, a university research group based in the French city of Nancy.
“It will be the same once Muammar Gaddafi is ejected from power.”
Date created : 2011-07-03