Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Is the AU too Respectful to Gaddafi?

Can't say I didn't see this coming -- the AU has decided not to honor the ICC arrest warrant, meaning that Gaddafi is still free to travel around Africa as he likes. From News24:

The decision passed late on Friday states that the warrant against Gaddafi "seriously complicates" efforts by the African Union to find a political solution to the crisis in Libya.

AU chairperson Jean Ping told reporters that the ICC is "discriminatory" and only goes after crimes committed in Africa while ignoring those committed by Western powers including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"With this in mind, we recommend that the member states do not co-operate with the execution of this arrest warrant," said the motion which was shown to The Associated Press and whose passage was confirmed by Daniel Adugna, a spokesperson in the AU commissioner's office.

If the AU's 53 member states abide by the decision, it opens the possibility that Gaddafi could avoid prosecution by seeking refuge on the soil of neighbouring nations.

In light of this news, Elizabeth Ohene has a piece at the Royal African Society pointing out the black African leaders' relative distance to what's happening in Libya, and positing that the AU may just be being too respectful in their dealings with the Libyan dictator. Not that they were that far up his ladder of priorities anyway:
The black Africans, the sub-saharan Africans, the Africans treated this stranger with care and respect. They nodded and said yes knowing fully well they had no intention of doing what he was saying. Of course it helped that he had money and could pick up some of the bills for the organization, but nobody felt squeamish about that.

Prestigious world universities were taking his money. Important world figures were all beating a path to his tent or rolling out the red carpet for him in their capitals. Condoleeza Rice, Tony Blair, Nicholas Sarkozy Silvio Berlusconi, to name a few and they don't come any more important and the deals that come out of those meetings would show his generosity in African countries to be peanuts.

Unfortunately the AU has not learnt that “Obunfura” does not work with the western powers. Saying yes because you do not want to offend does not work in the world of realpolitik. Saying yes in the fond hope that when push came to shove there would be no unpleasantness as dictated by “Obunfura” has landed the AU in a mess. They knew that Gaddafi's time ought to be up after forty years in power, but since you have to treat strangers with care and respect, they couldn't bring themselves to tell him as much and once the uprising started and the rebels made Gaddafi's exit from office their main demand, the AU could not be an honest broker.

They voted for and supported Security Council Resolution 1973 in the hope the enforcement of a no-fly zone would bring peace, and they chose to ignore the gathering war clouds. Not surprisingly their current protests have been drowned in the bombs over Tripoli.

This seems a bit incomplete to me, though. I'm not convinced that the AU is averse to unpleasantness in the Gaddafi situation because he's from North Africa. If AU's were just a North Africa problem, Mugabe and Obiang wouldn't be in power, some heavy focus would be on Museveni with his crackdowns on the population, and there would be pressure on Wade to peacefully cede power instead on trying to going for another term. As we saw in Niger and Cote d'Ivoire, there are certainly situations that the AU would speak up forcefully. I just don't think geography has anything to do with it.


  1. I agree that geography has very little to do with it. I think it has more to do with Gaddafi's wealth and power. I can imagine that quite a number of leaders and political parties on the continent have gotten money from the Libyan dictator in the past.

  2. Definitely has to do with wealth. Now that they're forced to consider him persona non grata, I wonder how the AU will finance its activities.