We can't take a neutral stance: A South African View on the Conflict in Libya

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Baleka Mbete

Unfortunately, this approach to the resolution of conflicts on our continent runs contrary to the agenda of those who want to exploit genuine grievances of our people and bloodshed on this continent to get rid of regimes that they never liked in the first place.For its part, the West did not miss the opportunity to take advantage of this for the advancement of the regime change agenda by recognising the rebels as a legitimate government of Libya, providing ammunition to rebels, and deploying Special Forces for covert operations which include training these rebels.

We can't take a neutral stance


The events in Libya have rightfully generated much debate. A contribution to the debate on this issue by President Museveni in the last week edition of ANC Today suggested that the three African countries on the United Nations Security Council who voted for Resolution 1973 that authorised the no-fly zone over Libya acted "contrary to what the African Peace and Security Council had decided in Addis Ababa recently".

However, this assertion is not supported by what is contained in the communiqués of the meetings of the AU Peace and Security Council of 23 February and 10 March 2011 that were convened to develop Africa's response to the Libyan situation.
Other voices have even gone to the extent of arguing that South Africa is pursuing a confused foreign policy in that we voted for Resolution 1973 and then go on to condemn Western air raids on Libya. Those who see confusion in our approach do not appreciate the politics of the UN Security Council and the nature of the Libyan state as well as the situation before us.

The unfolding crisis in Libya is a function of four factors, namely:
•    the unequal nature of the global system, including the UN Security Council whose transformation is long overdue and the imperialist competition for control of the world's energy resources;
•    the brutal and repressive response of the Libyan state to recent popular demands for democracy and political reforms as opposed to Tunisia and Egypt wherein the military opted for a neutral stance towards protesters;
•    the disintegration of the Libyan state in the wake of the rebellion as key figures in the high echelons of government and military deserted Colonel Gaddafi to join the rebels; and
•    the regime change foreign policy agenda of some Western powers which is not confined to Libya.

When we talk about the UN Security Council we should not lose sight of the many resolutions we have taken at ANC meetings for years about the need for the transformation of this organ of the United Nations and other institutions of global governance whose character, orientation and content reflect the interests of the West.

We went into the UN Security Council, for the second time, with full knowledge of the contradictions of this body, including the fact that power is unequally distributed between the majority (the ten non-permanent members) and the permanent five who wield veto powers.
South Africa's support for the no-fly zone resolution was informed by the fact that the resolution was requested by the Arab League which is our historical and fraternal partner in our ongoing struggle for the establishment of a just and equitable world order. We voted in favour of Resolution 1973 as we believe that the adoption of measures including a ceasefire and no-fly zone as authorised by this resolution, constitute an important element for the protection of civilians and the safety passage for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Operations aimed at enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians should be limited to just that. They should not harm, as they are doing, the very civilians that Resolution 1973 was aimed at protecting. They should not be aimed at foreign military intervention and occupation. They should not be about regime change. That was clearly not the intention of the resolution.
Indeed that was not the intention of some of us who voted for this resolution especially and in this instance South Africa. Whatever measures are deployed in Libya in implementing this resolution should preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that country.

No one wants this continent to witness another Rwanda. Nor can South Africa afford to sit on the fence when one of the countries on our continent is in flames. It is for this reason that when Western powers went beyond the letter and spirit of Resolution 1973 that the Arab League, the African Union and South Africa were among those who did not hesitate to speak out. There is no contradiction in calling for a no-fly zone resolution and still condemn the aerial bombings by the allied forces, which have caused civilian deaths.

There are lessons that must be drawn from this experience. However, first of all, this crisis emphasizes the need to move with speed to conclude the ongoing process at the United Nations for the reform of the Security Council. Whatever deadlock is holding back progress in concluding the negotiations on the UN reform must be unlocked, and we must do all we can to ensure this happens if we are to avoid the repeat of another Libya or Ivory Coast recently and many others before them.

Africa must also take the lead on peace and security issues on our continent. Contrary to what is suggested by President Museveni, the AU failed to pronounce on the no-fly zone to guide African countries on the UN Security Council. Instead, the AU limited itself to concerns over foreign military intervention and issues of territorial integrity as well as the imperatives of finding a political solution.

The weakness of the Margreb Union is another factor here. If North Africa had a fully functional and cohesive Regional Economic Community, this body could have led the continent and the world in dealing with crises situations in that part of the world, including Libya. Now, with the NATO bombings the AU had to delay the deployment of its High Level Committee whose primary mandate is to mediate and initiate national dialogue in Libya with the view to finding an amicable political solution to the crisis. President Jacob Zuma is a member of this Committee.
The way out in Libya is not in more and more bombings but in getting the two sides in that country to agree to a ceasefire and begin the political process to address transitional issues to peace and stability as well as the root causes of the crisis. Africa is marginalised in the resolution of the Libyan crisis not only by NATO and its allies but also by Libyan protagonists themselves who are seeking a solution outside this continent.

The Gaddafi regime is far from revolutionary as it may be purported, and as such the solution to the crisis cannot be found without bearing this fact in mind. The Libyan state that we have today is a product of three former Ottoman provinces that were amalgamated by the Italian colonial rulers with unresolved and acute tribal contradictions.

The coming into power of Col Gaddafi in 1969 through a military coup was a reaction to the exclusion by the monarchy whose base and constituency was in the east which included the Bhengazi region which is today at the centre of this rebellion. For his part, Gaddafi advantaged the west and south regions in terms of access to resources and power. His special forces are even recruited essentially from the south. Nor did his reign resolve the contradictions between the Berber and Arab communities.

President Museveni described the nature of the Gaddafi regime in his article, including its divisive and destructive role in the AU and within some African countries. That so many of its key figures in the leadership broke ranks to join the rebels should be telling. But it should not be taken for granted that these rebels necessarily represent a progressive agenda. On the contrary, these rebels have been lobbying Western capitals for regime change support and hoisting high the flag of the monarchy that Gaddafi toppled in 1969.

For its part, the West did not miss the opportunity to take advantage of this for the advancement of the regime change agenda by recognising the rebels as a legitimate government of Libya, providing ammunition to rebels, and deploying Special Forces for covert operations which include training these rebels. Unconfirmed reports are making rounds in the corridors that some Western countries are signing lucrative oil deals with the rebels for their energy security.

The unfolding crisis in Libya is not in black and white. It should be read in its complexity, with the eyes of realpolitik and an ever-evolving geo-political reality. South Africa participated actively in the consultations in the UN Security Council leading to the adoption of Resolution 1973 to dilute the original draft and built into it the African process led by the AU High Level Committee because the solution there can only be through the political process.

Unfortunately, this approach to the resolution of conflicts on our continent runs contrary to the agenda of those who want to exploit genuine grievances of our people and bloodshed on this continent to get rid of regimes that they never liked in the first place.
Indeed, while all UN Security Council members expressed serious concern about the situation in Libya during consultations on the resolution and wished to take further action, there was disagreement on what some perceived as the blanket authorisation of the use of force to ensure the protection of civilians and compliance with the no-fly zone, even with the necessary caveats in the resolution language.

In the final draft of the resolution that was put to a vote, the contentious paragraph remained the authorisation 'to take all necessary measures'. Futile attempts were made to constrain this authorisation by "excluding foreign occupation force of any form" in line with African Union and Arab League position on rejecting foreign intervention.

However, we should not read much from the fact that other BRICS countries abstained during the voting on the resolution. Normally, countries on the Security Council would consult during the negotiation of the draft resolution to coordinate their inputs and positions. This coordination did not take place among the BRICS countries until the day of voting, and by that time South Africa had already made its input into the draft resolutions and our concerns accommodated.
For that matter, two of the BRICS countries had the option of using the veto that they did not exercise to block the resolution. In effect, and in Security Council terms, none of the fifteen members opposed the resolution. For South Africa, we were not going to take a neutral stance when one of our own was crying out for help.

 

Baleka Mbete is the ANC National Chairperson





   

 

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