March 18, 2011 (WASHINGTON) – The African Union (AU) panel tasked with seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis in Libya is set to meet in Mauritania on Saturday as prospects for military airstrikes became all but certain.
- U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement about Libya in the East Room of the White House March 18, 2011 in Washington, DC (AFP)
The commission consists of presidents from Uganda, Mauritania, South Africa, Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) and Mali as well as the Chairperson of the AU Commission Jean Ping.
On Thursday the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted resolution 1973 authorizing sweeping military actions to protect civilians against advancing forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi has lost control over large parts of his country after widespread ant-government demonstrations that started in mid-February turned into an armed rebellion.
The African Union (AU) has been slow to issue a response to the events in Libya which came in the form of a statement on March 10 expressing "deep concern" over the violence in Libya saying it poses "a serious threat to peace and security in that country and in the region as a whole, as well as to the safety and dignity of Libyans and of the migrant workers, notably the African ones, living in Libya".
The AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) also expressed solidarity with Libya and rejected "any foreign military intervention, whatever its form".
This was in sharp contrast to positions of the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which called for the imposition of a No-Fly Zone over Libya. Gulf Arab countries had also said Gaddafi’s government was no longer legitimate.
Western countries and NATO have initially insisted they will not intervene militarily in Libya without approval of regional organizations such as the Arab League and the AU and a UNSC clear mandate.
However, references to AU’s prior consent were later dropped and Western officials only spoke of Arab League decision.
Three African countries sitting on the UNSC including Nigeria, South Africa and Gabon supported the council’s resolution on Libya authorizing the no-fly zone over Libya and "all necessary measures" to protect civilians. Five other countries abstained namely Russia, China, Brazil, Germany and India.
The same countries also endorsed resolution 1970 imposing comprehensive sanctions on Libyan leader and his henchmen as well as referring the crimes committed to the International Criminal Court (ICC), an organization routinely criticized by the AU.
The AU said in a statement that the panel will seek in today’s meeting to determine the ways and means of implementing its mandate.
“Following this meeting, the members of the Committee will undertake to engage the Libyan parties and assess the situation in Libya,” the AU statement added. It will also seek "the adoption and implementation of the political reforms necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis" in Libya.
However, world powers appeared to have closed the door in front of any attempt for political mediation.
U.S. president Barack Obama, delivering an ultimatum to Gaddafi on Friday, said his administration would work with its partners to enforce UNSC demands for a ceasefire. He again made reference to position of the Arab League but ignored that of the AU.
"Yesterday, in response to a call for action by the Libyan people and the Arab League, the U.N. Security Council passed a strong resolution that demands an end to the violence against citizens.," Obama said at the White House today.
"All attacks against all civilians must stop," Obama said, vowing to enforce the UNSC resolution.
Ironically South African officials expressed doubt whether the AU panel would be impartial and even questioned wisdom of sitting on it.
"There are concerns here at home about this panel and whether South Africa should be part of it. It’s almost a given what they will say, given their relationship with that man [Gaddafi]," a senior government official told the Mail & Guardian newspaper based in South Africa.
The newspaper said that Government officials in Johannesburg are worried that should the panel return with a recommendation to the AU that favors Gaddafi, it will spoil the image president Jacob Zuma wants to portray on the continent — that of himself as a statesman who believes in brokering peaceful solutions that do not merely serve its strongmen.
It was later confirmed that Zuma will not travel with the panel as planned to Libya.
South African president came under fire in his country last week over a call he made to Gaddafi. Libyan TV quoted Zuma as telling his counterpart that that the AU should investigate the “conspiracy” against him and the world should not believe what foreign media were saying about Libya.
Zuma’s office issued a statement at the time saying the Libyan TV report had been “distorted”. It pointed out that South Africa had voted for UNSC sanctions on Libya and that Zuma had condemned Libya’s killing of civilians while he was in France.
The Ugandan government on Thursday said it opposes “foreign interference” in Libya and declared it will not freeze Libyan-owned assets in the country.
In an interview to be fully published by Daily Monitor, Uganda foreign Minister Sam Kutesa also urged Gaddafi to stop killing his people and use available avenues to restore peace to his country.
“He should not kill his people… [but] ought to look at reforms and legitimate demands of his people,” Kutesa said adding that “we do not want foreign interference. We think that there should be an African solution to this”.
Kutesa said that Uganda will try to impress it upon the Libyan leader that “it is revolutionary to be democratic”.
“[Being] a revolutionary, I think, you are trying to serve the larger interests of society and that includes people’s freedoms and wellbeing,” he said. “I don’t know whether anybody should say that being a revolutionary excludes being democratic. I don’t think so.”
Responding to a question whether Gaddafi, who has ruled for 42 years, is part of the problem or solution for the North African country, Uganda’s top diplomat said he could be both.
“Because if he is still there and has not allowed reforms, then he is part of the problem. But if he can join the others and they make reforms, then he is part of the solution”.
Last week, some experts said that the AU’s credibility is at stake over its reaction to the Libyan crisis.
"I think the AU credibility is a bit on the line," said Laura Seay, an Africa specialist at Morehouse College in Georgia to Voice of America (VOA).
"Whether they are going to be able to formulate effective and coherent responses, and saying that violence against civilians is unacceptable to the African Union. That’s going to make a big difference on whether they have credibility not only on the international scene, but also with their own people."
Delphine Lecoutre, a researcher with the French Center for Ethiopian Studies, pointed to the AU’s weak statement as an example of the PSC timidity in facing up to the behavior of its leaders.
"There was a Peace and Security Council meeting on Libya, which resulted in a cosmetic communiqué hardly condemning the violence in Libya and putting it in a [clever] way, loss of human life and destruction of property, but nothing regarding the political situation in the country," said Lecoutre. "It is difficult for the AU to deal with that case."