by Webster Brooks
Despite the Obama administration’s best efforts, the first black President is having a hard time getting the Africans, better yet the African Union (AU), on board with military actions in Libya. Why? Because Col. Muammar Gaddafi has been the most dominant force in Africa for over thirty years.
We keep hearing about how the Arab League is feeling and where everyone else stands on Libya. But, we hear little about what the African countries think, an important detail since it’s their continent and all. Right now, the coalition of mostly sub-Saharan African states (and some of your most notorious “dictators”) has refused to support the United Nations and Arab League’s “No Fly Zone” resolutions in Libya. So now, bombs dropped on Libya each day looks more and more like a European and Arab thing. Recently, Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security said events in Libya require “urgent African action” to bring about an end to the hostilities. How did they propose doing that?
The AU formed a “High Level Committee on Libya” to hold meetings on March 19 with Gaddafi and opposition forces to discuss “comprehensive reforms to defuse the tensions that led to the current crisis.” But the Committee’s plans fell off when airstrikes kicked in shortly thereafter. While the AU’s questioning of “foreign intervention” in Libya might be a legitimate matter for debate, their refusal to denounce Gaddafi’s attacks on his own people is not. Seriously, did the AU really believe they could broker comprehensive reforms to end Gaddafi’s last-man-standing plan to destroy the rebels?
Clearly, the AU is jumping through hoops to avoid condemning Gaddafi’s regime. Why? The answer is threefold. First, Gaddafi is a slick dude, he’s set it up where many countries are financially dependent on him. Second, African states are very well aware of Gaddafi’s reputation for exacting revenge against political opponents – you don’t want to see him mad. Third, Col. Muammar is the biggest man on continent. Because his ouster is not a foregone conclusion, the AU’s position won’t change anytime soon until he is forced out of power. The AU’s ambivalence about throwing Gaddafi to the wolves is largely the untold story of how Gaddafi attempted to transform the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and AU from an ineffective “talking shop” of African leaders into a formidable regional organization.
Gaddafi emerged as a force on the continent in the 1970’s when he successfully persuaded 25 African nations to break diplomatic relations with Israel. As a member of the OAU’s Liberation Committee, he played a critical role key role in securing weapons and funding for liberation movements in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola.
By 1999, Gaddafi’s high profile role within the OAU finally paid off when the organization founded the AU.
You know he’s got global game if Nelson Mandela visits Tripoli and praises Gaddafi “… as one of the revolutionary icons of our times.” Soon after, and lining pockets along the way, Gaddafi was unpacking his vision of moving the AU toward a United States of Africa with one government, a Pan-African parliament, a single monetary system and a standing continental army. His very own “Black Empire.”
By 2004, the AU’s Pan African Parliament met for the first time and established its new home in Midrand, South Africa. And after a sharp debate between Gaddafi and South African President Thabo Mbeki, the AU reached a compromise agreement to create an African Standby Force. Those forces are deployed today in Somalia and Darfur.
Gaddafi also understands, that you put your money where your mouth is. Since the AU’s creation in 2002, Gaddafi has had a share in 15 percent of the organization’s annual operating budget. Through direct contributions to the AU and Libya’s financial investments in individual member-states, Gaddafi amassed substantial leverage to pursue his political agenda. After establishing a $65 billion sovereign wealth fund, Gaddafi launched the Libyan Africa Investment Portfolio. The LAP’s projects include Green Networks, a mobile phone operator with commercial operations in Niger, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Rwanda. In Mali, Libya he built a $100 million government office building in the capital city of Bamako, and funded a national television network. Libya is also contributing 100 million euro’s to construct a Trans-Sahara highway north of Niger and a $50 million grant to Mauritania to begin construction on a hospital and university named after Gaddafi. The LAP also operates luxury hotel chains in Gambia and the Congo. Gaddafi’s role as an investor and philanthropist for many of West and Sub-Saharan nations was the cornerstone of Libyan soft power in Africa.
Irrespective of Gaddafi’s efforts to elevate the AU, he has also been its most polarizing element undermining African unity. He attempted to impose his will on Africa through manipulation and bribery backed by intimidation and force. In 1982 he supported Jerry Rawlings successful coup in Ghana as well as failed coups against standing governments in the Central African Republic, Morocco, Sudan and Mauritania. He’s raised independent armies, like the infamous Islamic Legion that was routed by Chad in Darfur and sent his own Libyan forces into Chad and Uganda. Complaints that Gaddafi engaged in destabilization efforts in Benin, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia among others were constantly brought to the AU’s attention. In short, Gaddafi was the fount of division and conflict within the AU.
Crisis in Libya may have provided the AU with an international statement about the future direction of Africa. How willing is it to rid the continent of dictators and purveyors of genocide? Should Gaddafi be deposed, the African Union may get a second chance.