By Francis Kornegay
South Africa and the African Union (AU) have ended up internationally isolated on the issue of a post-Gaddafi Libya. This predicament was accentuated by Russia’s recognition of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) on the eve of the Paris “Friends of Libya” summit at the beginning of September. China as well as Russia were present at this new Libyan creation of great and emerging powers, including the Arab League, but boycotted by South Africa and the AU.
The ramifications of this mutual alienation between Libya’s new rulers and the AU, led by South Africa, could be far-reaching. It could include Libya’s exit from the AU along with Morocco and tensions between them both and Algeria (which was also present in Paris).
This could further complicate North Africa’s relationship with the rest of the continent and the European Union’s bifurcated policy toward Africa: the Maghreb on the one hand via the EU-Mediterranean Partnership; sub-Saharan Africa on the other through the asymmetrical “EU-Africa Strategic Partnership”. Indeed, Africa’s relations with the West generally may stand in the balance, and this from a country that fashioned itself as Africa’s emerging power representative in the Brics club of Brazil, Russia, India and China. In this regard, the recent actions by Moscow and Beijing underline what Brics is not: an emerging powers political alliance.
At a time when the department of international relations and cooperation is vetting its foreign policy white paper, the Libya policy controversy reveals a tortured set of contradictions. Our diplomacy appears a complete muddle on the norms and values front and how normative considerations should mutually inform national interests in pragmatically balancing the country’s alignments and strategic priorities.
Most other Brics, China and Russia in particular, pursue a normatively neutral but pragmatic “non-interference” approach to crises such as Libya. Yet Pretoria, has never been comfortable in departing from the other Brics in voting for UN Resolution 1973 and the consequent demise of Muammar Gaddafi. Perhaps there may have been a notion of Brics as anti-West instead of pro-emerging powers and global South with Pretoria having to “get on side”.
Never mind the fact that we were in “African unity” with Nigeria and Gabon on 1973; or that abstentions by Moscow and Beijing were tacitly votes favouring the P3 – the US, UK and France – in effecting a “no-fly zone” military intervention.
Pretoria has seemed acutely ambivalent about its posture in relation to other Brics in the UN Security Council. This seems less about a considered policy approach to issues coming before the council; more a kneejerk string of serial reactions against anything emerging from the P3 whether these relate to Libya or, more recently, Syria. The point concerns posture rather than how often South Africa votes with the P3.
Not that the P3 should serve as benchmarks for South Africa’s positions. P3 hypocrisies, inconsistencies and contradictions leave them with little claim to the moral high ground. But leaving out the West, there are other non-Western reference points: Turkey, Egypt and the Arab League for example.
In the case of Syria, even Iran has begun pressing the Bashar al-Assad regime to cease its violent crackdown on protestors and to begin reforms. Pretoria has considerably more leeway in navigating this and other issues in conveying genuine foreign policy independence than it seems to appreciate. Yet, on Libya, it has manoeuvred itself and the AU into an irrelevantly negative cul-de-sac replete with divisions on the continent on how the Libyan NTC should be engaged.
Instead of the AU consultation on Libya chaired by President Jacob Zuma refusing to recognise the NTC, the outcome could have provided more flexibility. It could have offered provisional recognition as an outreach to the NTC. Communication could have productively gotten under way, at the very least a “dialogue partnership” that defused tensions.
By provisionally recognising the NTC, the AU would have positioned itself to work with the Arab League and other actors on whatever post-conflict plan for Libya the UN and the “Friends of Libya” come up with. However such a plan unfolds, the NTC has, from the very beginning stipulated that under no circumstances would they countenance foreign boots on the ground in Libya, Nato assistance notwithstanding.
Nevertheless, as Gaddafi moved to crush Libyan people power, the leaders of the anti-Gaddafi insurgency asked for the external military assistance that was forthcoming. Nato powers had, in any case, ruled out troop deployments, conspiracy suspicions notwithstanding. The NTC has ruled out any kind of peacekeeping presence unless from Arab League and/or Islamic states. And this as a last resort.
But this selective anti-imperialism is not good enough for South Africa and the AU. Instead, South African policy seems to be informed purely in reaction to whatever Nato does, Nato being a perfect anti-Western whipping-boy for ignoring all other considerations in the complex Libyan conundrum. In this thinking, Nato deposed Gaddafi, not the rebels. The NTC equals “Nato rebels”.
Ironically, many Western observers see Libya as Nato’s “last hurrah”, giving it little prospect of spear-heading any future out of area interventions. But this Western side of the Nato story never registers in Pretoria’s or any other African calculus. Yet the AU is dependent on the West in constructing its Stand By Force system, Africom assistance included.
Clearly there is need for a more robust security dialogue within the EU-Africa Strategic Partnership about Western military interventions in Africa under whatever guise. It will be interesting to see how proactive Pretoria and the AU are on this in the aftermath of Libya.
To be sure, a full embrace of the NTC by the AU really isn’t prudent pending greater clarity on the interim government the NTC will set up and the consolidation of its confederated insurgent army. Indeed, a very real danger is a Mogadishu-type scenario unfolding as rival anti-Gaddafi militias vie for control of Tripoli and/or other regions and urban centres.
In this sense the AU call for an “inclusive government” is on the mark. But the seemingly hostile manner in which this has been conveyed along with implications that the NTC must accommodate Gaddafi loyalists tramples on the case for “inclusiveness”. We’ve seen the fig-leaf for impunity that “inclusiveness” translates into in Zimbabwe. Pretoria and the AU cannot continue putting forth “one size fits all” national unity governments as the “African solution to African problems”.
The “concerned” (or confused?) African intellectuals, with their elusive “open letter”, have been of little help in this regard with their re-treaded cold war anti-imperialist paranoia, totally ignoring the popular origins of the Libyan insurgency. Tone-deaf do they seem to the regional transnational democratic, youth-led, social media-driven momentum for change in the Arab world in which the Libyan uprising is nested.
Instead, these “thought leaders” have hitched their conservatism to the tired state-centric elite sovereignty agenda of an AU still reflecting the protectionist “heads-of-state club” of the old Organisation of African Unity. Further, they cry “recolonisation” when, in effect, Africa has never really decolonised.
What we have is an Africanised colonialism as a protective device for dictators in the name of “no unconstitutional changes of government”. This is what South Africa and the AU invoked as the reason for not recognising the NTC even though Gaddafi’s Libya was without a constitution.
As far as Libya is concerned, the economic geopolitical calculus of Gaddafi’s fall is yet to be fully manifest. One result, however, may well be to rupture Russia’s energy geo-strategy of encircling the European energy market in tightening coils of dependence on Russian oil and oil/gas alliances. Moscow is heavily invested in the southern Mediterranean hydrocarbon sector. Hence Russia’s recognition of the NTC and signs that China, also heavily invested, is coming around as well.
Meanwhile, lost in the shuffle of South African and “concerned African intellectual” indignation at Nato (to which Turkey belongs and with which Moscow has a relationship in the Nato-Russia Council) is the plight of sub-Saharan African migrant workers marooned in Libya. They are victims of a predictable post-Gaddafi racist reaction and in dire need of AU intervention.
All the more reason why South Africa and the AU need to be engaged instead of enraged in self-marginalisation. Yet, the very plight of these stranded migrants has become one more pretext for the AU not engaging or recognising the NTC. The migrants can be sacrificed to make point? Who said the AU was not people-centred?
By the way, international mainstream media does not even register an African dimension in the Libyan equation. Rather, it’s all about Arabs and the Middle East. Not forging an AU-Arab League partnership may have been one of the first strategic mistakes made in Pretoria and Addis. How did this not happen? Could this herald a new age of global South non-solidarity?
Time and how Pretoria and Addis regroup may tell. Hopefully, better days in South African foreign policy will emerge. But this may require “on-the-couch” psychoanalysis in what may amount to a post-apartheid ideological stress syndrome affecting sections of the country’s foreign policy elite and a confused and confusing intelligentsia in crisis. Truly a cause for concern.
Francis Kornegay is a senior fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue.