Saving Libya: Will Jacob Zuma be the African Union’s Star?

Fresh attempts are being made to tackle the Libyan crisis outside the military campaign that NATO has sustained all this while. It is reported that South African President Jacob Zuma is heading for Libya for what is being seen as a last attempt to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
As the BBC put it, “It is unclear if the visit, Mr. Zuma’s second, will focus on exit strategies for Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi.”

This attempt is an African initiative, which is devoid of a show of raw military strength. It involves using diplomacy and political means for negotiating peace between Gaddafi and his Benghazi-based opponents. That effort is consistent with the African Union’s position on how to handle the Libyan crisis. I welcome it.

As NATO continues bombing parts of Western Libya and international pressure mounts on Gaddafi with the rebel Transitional National Council receiving diplomatic recognition from some countries to undermine his government, it seems that this initiative by Zuma will have many options, one of which may be the need for Gaddafi to step down as a precondition for negotiations with his opponents toward an amicable resolution of the Libyan crisis.

Considering the resolve with which Gaddafi has so far resisted such a call, it is difficult to say immediately that he will accept that option. But knowing that NATO’s intention “to finish the job” entails further demolition of Libyan infrastructure and the ultimate assassination of him, his family members, and henchmen, he may think more than twice before rejecting that offer.

As a mere mortal human being to whom death must be a fearful thing—and having already been pushed into hiding—Gaddafi may end up accepting the offer to step down. But assuming that he wants to see things beyond the confines of the negotiation table to conclude that he is endangered whether he hangs on to power or not, he will reject the call for him to step aside.

After all, it is clear to him that he faces another danger—the International Criminal Court’s noose is waiting for his neck. Unless he is granted immunity, he will stick to his own agenda of dying a martyr so as not to suffer the humiliation awaiting him at the end of the road.

The situation is dire for him, and he is likely to choose the path of a martyr. That is where the mission by Zuma will face problems. A determined Gaddafi, who knows that he is now a caged animal waiting for either instant death or prolonged incarceration in a prison cell in The Hague, cannot be predicted.

Zuma’s mission has other twists and turns too. We can’t miss the heavy irony surrounding the mission itself. In the first place, he is the President of a country that voted to support the military campaign by the International Coalition, which has virtually ruled out any peace-making through negotiation. By endorsing the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1973, South Africa was unarguably supporting the massacre that NATO has been carrying out in Libya since March 19.

Will we say that Zuma has now realized South Africa’s folly or treachery in endorsing that resolution? Or that he didn’t know at that time that using diplomatic and political means to solve the Libyan crisis was (and still is) better than the military campaign that it helped the International Coalition to launch against Libya?

Or that he now regrets his country’s action of betrayal of Gaddafi—a long-time comrade and supporter of the African National Congress’ cause—and is now seeking to use this effort to unwind or undo the harm caused by his country’s letting him down or sending him to the slaughter house of the West? A mere face-saving initiative for South Africa to redeem his country’s (and his own) image, then?

In another sense, Zuma’s political history is shrouded in rebellion, having been part of the African National Congress’ fighting force that waged guerrilla warfare against the Nationalist Party’s Apartheid regime till its abolition in 1991 to give the ANC the leeway it had been looking for to represent the majority African population—and, indeed to become the legitimate government of South Africa ever since the fall of Apartheid.

The irony of this political persuasion nurtured by rebellion is that Zuma can’t put at naught his appreciation for rebellion as a means to assert influence in a political system that is oppressive and doesn’t allow a segment of the population to have its voice heard on national issues or how the system of governance should be shaped. I suspect strongly that Zuma is carrying along with him sentiments that favour the Benghazi-based rebels. A rebel can’t deny a fellow rebel’s cause.

Once the recollection of his own participation in those heady days of the ANC’s struggles will not be lost on him, we shouldn’t expect him to work against people who are using similar means to fight for recognition and a system of governance other than the repressive one that Gaddafi has had in place for four decades now.

That system of governance isn’t any different from the South African conditions of life prior to the collapse of the Apartheid system, even though the Gaddafi government is not known for practicing “Apartheid.” The rebels aren’t complaining of being subjected to economic hardships.

Gaddafi has given enough reason for the world to know that he has worked hard to improve the economic and social conditions of Libyans. The factor that has given rise to the insurgency against him is purely political—his long stay on the throne and refusal to yield to any other person to rule or fears that he was establishing a dynasty.

Again, his problem is that he hasn’t created room for any other form of governance apart from his self-serving “Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” or “Green Revolution” that is based on his own Third Universal Theory. His firm grips on power and perpetuation of his ideals as the fait accompli made him noxious to those who found I difficult to equate his personal political agenda to the national one.

Gaddafi is struggling to keep his hold on power because his opponents can no longer contain him, more than 40 years that he has ruled Libya as he pleases. Let’s not even talk about the enemies that he has created for himself outside the shores of Libya. Thus, the convergence of both internal and external opposition forces is his nemesis.

Another irony occasions Zuma’s peace-making mission. He was part of the first African Union delegation that attempted brokering peace in March. That delegation met Gaddafi and laid its proposals before him, which he readily accepted. But the African Union’s delegation couldn’t broker peace on that score alone. It needed to consult the Benghazi-based rebel leadership too. That was when Zuma drew attention to himself.

He left Libya and was not part of the AU delegation that proceeded to Benghazi to lay the proposals before the rebel leadership. No one knew why he did so; but the main that peace-brokering mission ended in smoke because the rebels rejected outright the AU’s proposal, apparently because they thought it favoured Gaddafi.

More pointedly, they saw the absence of any call for Gaddafi to step down as a major stumbling block. Such was the futility of the AU’s first mission to Libya. The delegation departed empty-handed and we haven’t heard anything concrete from the AU since then.

As the NATO bombardment persisted and the AU’s “loud silence” came to the fore, no one knew what exactly the continental body could do to prove that it was capable of solving such an internal problem on the continent. After all, the Libyan problem is an African problem to be solved by Africans and not those whose main objective is to obliterate anything they consider as an affront to them.

The main objective of NATO is to destroy Libya’s military capabilities and anything it considers an asset with the potential of being used to sustain Gaddafi’s anti-West rhetoric and possible resistance. That’s why NATO will not look for any other solution apart from the military one.

Now that Zuma is on this mission, we hope that he will play his cards well and give us that window of opportunity to resolve the crisis without any prolonging of the devastation. Zuma’s mission has a psychological boost, which is that his own ANC has come out to strongly condemn NATO’s military campaign in Libya.

“We… join the continent and all peace loving people of the world in condemning the continuing aerial bombardments of Libya by Western forces,” the ANC said in a statement on the eve of the visit, according to the BBC.

This open show of objection to the method being used by the West to handle the Libyan situation is obviously a clear demonstration of solidarity by the ANC, which must facilitate Zuma’s work.

Even though a South African journalist was said to have died at the hands of pro-Gaddafi forces—an event which seemed to annoy the South Africans and to threaten the relations between the two countries—one doesn’t expect that incident to stand between Zuma and Gaddafi in this current peace-making effort by the South African President. Of course, that incident is deplorable and must be condemned in its entirety; but in a war situation, anything of the sort cannot be ruled out.

As we wait for the outcome of this peace-brokering mission, we can only wish the South African President all the best of luck. Maybe, his last-ditch efforts will bring something good for us to hang on to as a better solution than the military campaign that the political leaders of countries ganged up against Gaddafi have relied on to devastate Libya’s precious infrastructure as well as to maim and kill human beings while claiming to be solving humanitarian problems there.

Let’s see how an African initiative will shame the war-mongers. On the other hand, if it fails, we shouldn’t expect anything else but the push by NATO to maximize all efforts to eliminate Gaddafi on behalf of the Benghazi-based rebel leadership. That will be the end of the chapter on Western interference in the internal affairs of Libya. But it will open a new chapter on how a country so destabilized will attempt to rise again. We will see how that re-making takes place.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

Leave a Reply