Further Brakes on African Unity
The brother leader, Colonel Muamar el Gaddafi, has just been elected Chairperson of the African Union. As to be expected about anything to do with the leader (40 years in power this September) of the Libyan Arab Socialist Jamahiriya, there is controversy which will not abate for the next 12 months that he will be the chief spokesperson for Africa’s premier diplomatic and political forum.
For those of us with longer memory we can rewind to a different time and age in 1982 when Gaddafi was prevented from becoming chairperson of the former OAU by an unholy alliance of internal reactionary leaders and external cold war -driven campaigns against the then fiery revolutionary leader led by the West principally the US. Gaddafi was then a pariah to many Westerners and their African allies’ puppets. Libya was hosting the OAU summit but many African leaders stayed away and a quorum could not be formed. Consequently the outgoing Chairperson, one Daniel arap Moi, a ‘model’ African leader, in the eyes of London and Washington, had his term extended. Moi did not even go to Tripoli. I recall President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria also stayed at home but hypocritically expressing the wish to join his colleagues in Tripoli if quorum was formed. It did not occur to him that by staying put in Lagos he was preventing quorum from being formed!
The real reason was that many of them distrusted Libya’s revolutionary position and Gaddafi’s support for different radical opposition activists including military coupists. Tripoli was a Mecca to all kinds of revolutionary groups that were fighting rotten leaders, often Western –backed, allegedly ‘moderate leaders’ in whose hands imperialism and neo-colonialism felt safe in Africa. While he was unpopular with many of the governments he was a hero to many ordinary people , radicals, Youths and students because of his outspokenness and willingness to face down the West and support Socialist and revolutionary forces both in Africa and internationally. It was not just coup leaders that Libya supported he was a pillar to many Liberation movements across Africa including, ANC, PAC, SWAPO, Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe as indeed he was to Lula in Brazil, the Sandanistas in Nicaragua and other Leftist Groups in South America and the Caribbean; Civil Liberty and Minority Groups and hard Left Groups in Europe: Islamist Leftist forces everywhere: The Nation of Islam and other Black Nationalist / Native Indian Groups in America including Kwame Toure’s AAPRP etc
Despite his ideological alignment with the socialist bloc Gaddafi was neither a Moscow or China surrogate leader. In spite of supporting main stream Liberation Movements in an age when such organisations claimed to be ’sole representative of the people of …’ Libya often supported different groups from the same country and even different factions of the same groups. It also had infinite capacity to switch support from government to opposition or vice-versa. Any regular participant at the various Al Mathaba events and training at that time will readily attest to the presence of a motley of groups from all over the world that were fellow travellers in Tripoli in those days, courtesy of Libyan solidarity and internationalism.
Sometimes with friends in Libya you do not need enemies. Libya’s unpredictability was both an indication of Libya’s independence and Gaddafi’s attempt to create a third way between the two dominant blocs. He never quite succeeded but the relative fabulous wealth of the country and the popular legitimacy of the Al Fatah revolution enabled it to be a force to be reckoned with. It is not just the wealth of Libya but the orientation of the leadership because Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Mobutu’s Zaire, Angola, Botswana and a few other countries in Africa have tremendous wealth yet did/ do not have similar influence.
Imperialism fought against Libya for a long time including several coup and assassination attempts and Tripoli bombings (Reagan’s pre-emptive strike of 1986 missed Gaddafi only by a whisker) . Libya also fought Euro-American hegemony by all means at her disposal. But it was Lockerbie that finally led to sanctions being imposed on Libya for 10 years. The sanctions regime nearly brought Libya to its knees. It was Pan African diplomatic and political solidarity that helped Libya to find a diplomatic end. It was Africa’s resolve and threat to break the sanctions unanimously adopted at the 1998 Ouagadougou Summit that forced the hands of the U Security Council. Mandela, Museveni, Rawlings were very instrumental in causing the change. The OAU gave the UN and the US/Britain ultimatum to accept trial of the Libyan suspects in the Holland instead of Scotland that has been the insistence of the British and the Americans. Mandela even went on state visit to Tripoli twice in one week. Who could have imposed sanctions on Mandela for breaking sanctions against Libya?
The lessons of Lockerbie was what dictated Gaddafi’s renewed interest in African unity and his believe that African states can wield more influence if they acted together. Africa held together whereas both the Arab league and the OIC and other Pan Islamic or Pan Arab diplomatic and political forum that Libya belonged to could not back up their solidarity with any tangible action. His gratitude to Africa led to the extra ordinary Session of the OAU in Shirte in September 1999. It was the Shirte Declaration seeking a faster process of the unity of Africa that led to the transformation of the OAU to the AU. By this time Libya had more or less abandoned the policy of changing African governments in exchange for just having friendly relations. The world had already changed too. By then many pro western governments in Africa had become post cold war ideological orphans. And many of Libya’s former rebel friends had also assumed power in a number of the countries. Even those leaders who did not share Libya’s revolutionary ideas have learnt to accommodate the country. You may not be firm friends but you do not want it on your enemy’s side.
Libya’s rehabilitation in Africa with friends in all the national capitals preceded its international rehabilitation with new found friends in London, Washington, Rome, Paris Brussels, etc.
Post Lockerbie Libya has concentrated its Intra African diplomacy on state to state relations and Pan African business enterprises that has made it a leading financial and investment player in many African countries: Hotels, Banks, Agriculture, mining, etc.
Increasingly Libya is becoming more like China in its African relations.
So Libya’s power and influence across Africa is not just because it uses money to bribe leaders or finance ruling parties but also as a key player in investment, buying privatised state assets, real estate, offering soft loans, batter trading oil for other assets, etc.
It is not afraid throw its weight around but also able, willing and always ready to put its money where its mouth is. Against the caution of the bureaucrats in Addis and the lack of political will by many of the leaders since 1999 Libya has been pushing for faster unity. Unfortunately it is concentrating too much on states instead of also building people to people dialogue and supporting grass roots movement in every country to nurture local constituencies for Pan Africanism. This misguided emphasis on Leaders makes it easy for reluctant leaders to throw the all important issues around Union government to committees, study groups and more committees since most of them do not believe it will/should happen in their life time.
Unlike in 1982 there is no big external interest in stopping Gaddafi from being AU chairperson. After all he is now great friends with those who made him pariah before. In Africa itself the Moi or Shagari of today’s Africa no longer fear that Gaddafi will overthrow them rather the disagreement is about faster Union pace or those who prefer tortoise speed. They have accepted that it was better to have Gaddafi ‘pissing out from inside’ rather than ‘pissing in from outside’. They have perfected how to manage his eccentricity while giving him the illusion that he is winning. It is a war of attrition
That reduces Gaddafi to a mere irritant. Since Libyans are not known for caring too much about details all their apparent political gains will proof to be phyric at committee level buried in legalese and politico-bureaucratic fudge.
Gaddafi’s assumption of Chair of AU will ensure that the issue of Union Government remain on the agenda for the year but I doubt if much progress will be made substantially unless Gaddafi changes his approach and learn the right lessons of the past 10 years of rebranding the OAU. It is not more noise that we need but concrete strategic actions. One, changing the name from AU to African Union Authority will not make any difference if the organisation lacks the power both political and economic to exercise its authority. Two, Gaddafi has to give up the razzmatazz and his penchant for political form rather than content. Three, he should stop childish pranks like calling himself ‘King of kings’ and allowing himself to be pawns in the hands of all kinds of charlatans who will give him any title as long as Libya continues to sponsor their useless gatherings. Four, African unity can only be built by committed Pan Africanists who are not just temporal residents of state houses but at all levels: Political parties, private sector, trade Unions, mass organisations, CSOs/NGOs, Professional associations, Youth , Students, Parliamentarians, Media, Women, etc in every country. Bribing leaders may ‘win’ resolutions but yield no concrete actions that will lead to unity.
But above all Gaddafi needs to lead by example. Libya must politically educate its own citizens and stem anti African xenophobia in the country and stop pursuing immigration policies/pacts that makes it a gate keeper for Europe. Gaddafi must stop promoting dictatorship by openly supporting leaders who do not respect the wishes of their people with reckless proclamations like his infamous ‘revolutionaries do not retire’. After 40 years in power he needs to show that the Al Fatah revolution is able to sustain itself without him. If he does not have confidence in Libyans to rule themselves without his ‘guidance’ after all these years it will be very difficult for him to inspire discerning Africans about our collective future.
As a friend of Libya for more than two decades and someone who has met Gaddafi several times and believes that he means well for Africa and I know that he is not as crazy as his caricatures make out I am also anxious that the messenger is now the main obstacle to the message. He readily plays into the hands of the reactionary bureaucrats of our Union, the opportunistic populism of his own personality –driven political machine in Libya and political obscurantism of unwilling leaders who will say yes to his face while working assiduously to bloc him all the way. The business of Unity is too important to be left to the whims and chagrin of leaders. It has to be anchored on sustainable institutions well thought out, well costed and budgeted for. There is enough in the constitutive act of the African Union that any further reviews as agreed in Addis can only advance the interests of the enemies of unity who are determined to put brakes on any progress.
“Forward ever, backward never”…..Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972)