Africa must come to terms with change of guard in Tripoli

What you need to know:

  • Out of tune: For a country renowned for excellent peace keeping, we have invited unnecessary flak

On Thursday, September 1, 2011, exactly 42 years since 27-year-old Colonel Muammar Gaddafi toppled King Idris and took power in Libya, leaders of 60 countries and the UN met in Paris with the Transitional National Council (TNC).

As the leading countries of the world declared unfreezing US$15 billion of Libyan money held in their territories and together with the leading humanitarian agencies plotted how to help the NTC stabilise the country, it was clear that the world had come to terms with the change of guard in Carthage, the homeland of Hannibal the Great.

Legitimate leaders

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya, and Mahmoud Jibril, his prime minister, have for all purposes been accepted as the legitimate leaders of Libya by the world. Not so, with Africa.

In Addis, the Africa Union is still holding out with the sterile calls for peaceful negotiations between different groups including Gaddafi and his loyalists as what they call a road map to the future.

In Oslo, South Africa’s Zuma was amplifying his musings that Nato had helped rebels without consulting “leaders who matter”. Uganda’s Museveni was still ruminating in similar vein.

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe was busy chasing away the Libyan ambassador who had the temerity to acknowledge the change of guard back home and replace the Gaddafi flag with the new flag of Libya.

Kenya was even worse. A week ago, the then acting Foreign minister, Prof George Saitoti, issued a statement urging an early restoration of peace and stability after “the impending collapse of the regime of Gaddafi”.

A week later, as the world sized up the new leaders in Tripoli and the UN won the mandate to co-ordinate stabilisation efforts with the new government, Kenya issued another statement going back on Saitoti’s feeble attempts to be relevant.

“The impression that Kenya has recognised the NTC is inaccurate,” said Nairobi. What is needed, they rattled, is political dialogue leading to an all-inclusive transitional government. We want to act like Kofi Annan did for us. Never mind that the crisis in Libya is not a result of an electoral dispute.

As Gaddafi hops about in a labyrinth of tunnels and other hideouts like a desert rat, Nairobi is dissenting into the group of Gaddafi friends mired in denial.

They find themselves in the company of Syria, the only country broadcasting Gaddafi’s pirated tapes announcing the imminent invasion of Tripoli by 2,000 tribes to burn the ground on which the rebels walk.

If ever the price of this irreverent posturing was to be counted, two events brought it home clearly. Early in the week, the NTC flatly rejected a UN proposal for a Kenyan contingent in the stabilisation force being put together for Libya.

For a country with international renown for excellent peace keeping performance, we had invited unnecessary flak.

This comes in the wake of an attack on the Kenyan embassy in Tripoli when the rebels overran pro-Gaddafi forces there; an experience repeated at the Algerian mission when that country allowed safe passage to members of Gaddafi’s family. TNC is sending a message to Nairobi. Kenya must send a new message back to Tripoli. We must be seen to be friends of Libya, not Gaddafi.

It is an open secret that many regimes in sub-Saharan Africa have benefited immensely from the largesse of the Gaddafi regime. The AU had become so dependent on him that some were calling it a Gaddafi project. Some rulers are still sharing proceeds of the Libyan investments in their countries as the situation in Tripoli remains unsettled.

But why pretend away the reality that the gravy train is gone? Gaddafi’s generosity spread to all corners of the world. European beneficiaries of his money have ditched him for the next man in town.

The Arab countries supporting the NTC know where the interests of the Libyan people lie more than distant Zimbabwe. The moment the countries of the Arab League, EU, the UN agencies and Russia started doing business with the NTC, a new government had taken over Libya.

Rather than pretend that their sense of being orphaned by Gaddafi will detain international attention, African leaders must wake up to the new reality. Their massive absence at the Paris forum has reduced Africa’s role in the shaping of one of the most important governments on the African continent in the coming days.

Having remonstrated irrelevantly during the crisis in Ivory Coast, one would have expected the AU to do better in the Libyan situation. Instead we hear the same mouthings of sterile clichés about inclusive dialogue.

The Libyan people who shed blood to free themselves from the yoke of an eccentric dictator are taking note as we totter in our narrow ambivalence.

Dr Kituyi is a director of the Kenya Institute of Governance. [email protected]

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