The African Group seems to have redeemed itself, at least for now

OPINION – The unprecedented move by the African Group in supporting the United Nations Resolution 1973 to impose a no-fly zone and other sanctions on Libya from Friday 18th March is very significant in view of the recent prevarications by the African Union.

Military action

According to the BBC, ‘the UN resolution is so broad it allows military action against all threats to civilians – so could even involve bombing Col Gaddafi’s forces on the ground if deemed necessary’ (Carolyn White, Libya:UK forces prepare after UN no-fly zone vote, BBC, 18/03/11).

The resolution which defied expectations had the support of the US, Britain, France, Bosnia and Hezegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal and South Africa and rules out a foreign occupation force in any part of Libya. However, five nations – Russia, China, Germany, Italy and India – abstained (The Sun.co.uk, 18/03/11).

It could be argued that the prospect of air-strikes may have deterred Col Gaddafi from carrying out his chilling threats of ‘no-mercy’ in Benghazi, than the watered-down communiqué of the 265th meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 10 March 2011, which was attended by his ally Zanu-pf leader Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

AU’s usual remedy

The AU meeting typically rejected ‘any foreign military intervention, whatever its form’, and prescribed the usual remedy of an inflated ‘AU ad-hoc High-Level Committee on Libya comprising five Heads of State and Government …to be supported by a team comprising the Ministers of Foreign Affairs/External Relations and/or other relevant Ministers of the countries concerned, as well as the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security.’

Held at a time of media speculation of alleged Zimbabwean mercenaries backing Gaddafi’s troops, the AU meeting recalled ‘the provisions of the OAU Convention on the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa; and requested the Commission to ‘gather information on the reported presence of mercenaries in Libya and their actions, to enable it, should these reports be confirmed, to take the required measures in line with the Convention’ (PSC/PR/COMM.2 (CCLXV).

A praise singer at Zimbabwe’s state owned newspaper The Herald, glorified the AU’s communiqué and pre-maturely attacked Nato for having ‘the cheek to discuss the possibility of military intervention or imposing a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace as if the AU didn’t exist let alone its powerful, 15-member Peace and Security Council…’ (The Herald, 14 March 2011, ‘The day the African Union came of age’).

Mercenaries

When Zanu-pf Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa was asked in Parliament by MDC-T MP and Chief Whip, Innocent Gonese, ‘whether there is any truth in the recent press reports that many mercenaries assisting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are personnel from the ZNA,’ he avoided giving a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer saying:

"That there are mercenaries who are African and are in Libya –I have no mandate in my duty as Minister of Defence to investigate activities happening in another African country" (swradioafrica.com 25/02/11). Instead he advised the legislator to direct his question to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile, the world is waiting for an unequivocal answer.

Interestingly, days after a former Libyan diplomat speaking on CNN, specifically mentioned Zimbabwe as having sent military regulars to Libya neighbouring Botswana threatened to cut all diplomatic ties with Libya due to ‘continued heavy repression’(Afroline.com, 24/02/11).

Paradigm shift

Notwithstanding the weaknesses of the African Union, the African Group at the UN may have redeemed itself, at least for now, from its alleged reputation of ‘standing in the way of the more radical action proposed against human rights violators’ (Korir Sing’Oei, The African Group: Friend or Foe of Africa’s Aspirations? Pambazuka.org, 02/07/09).

It is hoped that the African Group has finally made a paradigm shift on Africa’s governance and human rights problems especially after South Africa vetoed a draft UN resolution to impose sanctions on Robert Mugabe and his allies in July 2008 despite chilling reports that:

‘Since March (2008), the opposition says 113 of its supporters have been killed, some 5,000 are missing and more than 200,000 have been forced from their homes (BBC, Zimbabwe sanctions vetoed at UN, 12/07/08).

Qualified public support

While the UN resolution for a no-fly zone and provision for air-strikes on Libya has qualified public support, its delicate enforcement would require avoidance at all costs of embarrassing incidents like the bombing of civilian targets and loss of lives in the name of collateral damage and friendly fire, otherwise public support will be withdrawn swiftly.

Clifford Chitupa Mashiri, Political Analyst, London, zimanalysis2009@gmail.com