In Éclipse sur l’Afrique. Fallait-il tuer Kadhafi?•1 published in 2014, the Gabonese diplomat Jean Ping, former Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AU), sets out his view of the war in Libya in 2011, which led to the fall of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi and his subsequent death. A real indictment of “the marginalisation of Africa by the Western powers”, this book is also a desperate admission of the AU’s powerlessness on the international stage. According to the man who, for four years, led the continent’s highest political institution, the intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in Libya, based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, deliberately disregarded the “AU plan” which advocated at the time “a peaceful resolution to the crisis”.
In Éclipse sur l’Afrique. Fallait-il tuer Kadhafi?•1 published in 2014, the Gabonese diplomat Jean Ping, former Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AU), sets out his view of the war in Libya in 2011, which led to the fall of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi and his subsequent death. A real indictment of “the marginalisation of Africa by the Western powers”, this book is also a desperate admission of the AU’s powerlessness on the international stage. According to the man who, for four years, led the continent’s highest political institution, the intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in Libya, based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, deliberately disregarded the “AU plan” which advocated at the time “a peaceful resolution to the crisis”. In an interview with L’Humanité. fr dated 14 June 2014, Jean Ping explained: “We were due to travel to Tripoli on 20 March 2011 and on to Benghazi on 21 March. The NATO bombings began on 19 March, the eve of our arrival. The resolution adopted by the Security Council was based on a series of deceptions. At the Paris summit NATO was tasked with implementing this resolution. Two hours after this summit, the bombings began. Consequently, it seems likely that this was a previously implemented plan, executed at top speed in order to short-circuit the AU.”
Although NATO’s intervention in Libya remains controversial in African circles of opinion, these same opinions had not, at the time, given much credence to the alternative plan proposed by the AU to resolve the crisis in Libya. And with good reason: the heavily criticised
Pan-African organisation, stigmatised as a “club for heads of state”, has rarely met with a favourable response to the stands it has taken in crisis situations.
The result is that the institution suffers both from its alleged “marginalisation” on the international stage and from its difficulty in gaining acceptance as an effective and moral authority on the continent. At the heart of these debates on its capacity to assert itself as “the voice of the continent” in the world, is its financial independence, integral to its political autonomy. To take just the case of the Libyan crisis, given the relationship which had been established between the AU and its European NATO member partners, we may wonder about the capacities that might enable the AU to negotiate, still less to exert pressure, given that its “peace and security architecture” is 98% funded by the European Union (EU)•2.
This fact necessarily entails a certain element of subjugation of the Pan- African organisation to the EU, a supranational structure which includes France and the United Kingdom, two European nations which were in the frontline in the intervention in Libya. The AU cannot escape this contradictory situation, with the result that it remains confined to the circle of diplomatic dwarves. After he stepped down from the chairmanship of the AU Commission, Jean Ping denounced Western “prejudices” and the “negative and humiliating attitude” of the West towards Africans. Perhaps the real question is whether the AU Member States are really equipped with the means to expand their scope for action and capacity for negotiation in the field of international relations.
Is there such thing as an African diplomacy, as claimed by the speakers at AU summits? Is there also a shared and consistent protocol for “providing African responses to African problems”, as the new Chairperson of the African Union Commission, the former South African Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has also claimed? The response was already evident in the structure of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), before it was transferred to the organs of the Pan- African organisation which succeeded it. In reality, it is difficult to provide consistent and accepted solutions to the whole gamut of political situations, cultural specificities and systemic models prevailing in the 54 AU Member States. Can the same instruments for crisis resolution be applied in Côte d’Ivoire as in Somalia? When political contexts are constantly changing, what can be expected of the crisis resolution protocols?
Adopted in January 2007, the African Charter on Democracy•3, Elections and Governance was due to come into force in 2012. Still not ratified by a number of member states, this document has become the main reference point for the management of an Africa-wide diplomacy. Despite the adoption of this Charter and the acceptance, in 2011, of “shared values”– democracy, good governance and respect for human rights –, the authority of the AU remains organically dependent on the internal processes of the individual states. Already, at the beginning of the millennium, as if to anticipate the initial difficulties of the AU as it succeeded the OAU in 2002, two actors on the African political stage had decided to give a fresh impetus to a continental diplomacy generally regarded as inconsistent: the influential duo consisted of Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo, the presidents of two African powerhouses, South Africa and Nigeria. Garth le Pere, executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue in South Africa explains: “Like Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela, the president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, was concerned about the need to change Africa’s image by putting an end to conflict, consolidating peace and promoting democracy, human rights and good governance. As a result, the Nigerian Head of State became Mbeki’s key partner in building the capacity of the African institutions for the promotion of peace.”•4
With the support of their Senegalese counterpart, Abdoulaye Wade, the two leaders sponsored a new federating instrument based on the concept of the “African Renaissance”, called the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). This multisectoral project included a jumble of institutions, military issues, conflict management and resolution, the fight against terrorism, resource management and regional initiatives. What will be remembered in the end are its economic aspects, with the promotion of a North-South partnership; because its terms were deemed archaic, indeed obsolete, by many observers, its credibility has been tarnished. The bulk of the other elements promoted by NEPAD have been integrated into the processes of the AU.
Furthermore, the unionist outlook of the duo of Mbeki and Obasanjo was no match for leadership quarrels and regional rivalries. The management of the Ivorian crisis, among so many others, provides an example of these crippling tensions, as Garth le Pere points out: “The appointment by the AU of Thabo Mbeki as a mediator in the Ivorian peace process in November 2004 does not seem to have been well received by the Nigerian diplomats who regard West Africa as their private preserve. On the other hand, the determination of Olusegun Obasanjo to influence change in the Zimbabwean situation upset the ‘division of labour’ between Nigeria and South Africa in their respective regions.”
Within the AU, the quest for joint solutions and indeed even federating solutions still regularly stumbles against the defence of national and regional prerogatives. The management of the crisis in Togo in 2005 had trained the spotlight on the contradictory approaches to conflict resolution between the AU and the different countries involved. After having vainly requested a number of times a redefinition of the structuring of the prerogatives between the states and the AU Commission, so that he could increase his autonomy of action, Alpha Oumar Konaré decided to “throw in the towel”, and declined a second term as head of the Commission•5.
The other attempt to put in place a joint diplomacy was the proposed “United States of Africa” promoted by Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan head of state had taken it upon himself to revive the old dream of the father of Ghanaian independence, Kwame Nkrumah, when the African Union was created. Suspected of wanting to make this plan an instrument to serve his own ends, the Libyan Guide was forced, with some bitterness, to concede to the no vote on the creation of a Pan- African government at the 9th AU Summit held in Accra, in July 2007.
Can we speak of a continental diplomacy when the ways in which the interests of the various parties are negotiated depend on internal processes, linked to choices that are sometimes incompatible with the views of foreign partners? Can we speak of a continental diplomacy when the AU member countries cannot manage to agree on which country will represent them in the Peace and Security Council following the reform of this UN institution? Can we speak of a joint diplomacy when these same countries have to arbitrate leadership disputes within the continent between Nigeria and South Africa? And lastly, can we speak of a Pan-African diplomacy when South Africa begins to project its leadership ambitions, fuelled by dubious assumptions, on to the continent, while dishing out lessons in good political practice seasoned with anti-imperialist rhetoric from an age gone by?
Instead of drawing inspiration from the fruitful humility of Nelson Mandela, who had made the “moral presidency” and human rights the cornerstone of his foreign policy by listening to Africa, his successors have persuaded themselves that their “word”, often delivered with a heavy dose of arrogance, carries the same weight on the African political stage as their economic capacity. This “immodest power” that South Africa has become is embodied today by the Chairperson of the AU Commission. She has transformed the organisation into a sinking ship, with goals that have become elusive.
In the face of the AU’s inertia, one of the most frequently explored pathways is the strengthening of the regional institutions. The issue is to invent and implement instruments adapted to the new forms of conflict which emerged on the continent in the 1990s: pre- and post- electoral disputes, institutional and constitutional crises, internal armed conflicts, civil wars, conflict related to economic predation, the fight against terrorism and cross-border insecurity…
A division of labour has gradually become established among the various continental organisations over the last ten years. This new structuring of the African political scene is taking place through a confirmed interface between the actions of the AU and of the regional organisations (ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], CEMAC [Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa], SADC [Southern African Development Community], etc). Crisis management and diplomatic actions are increasingly subject to a pyramidal decision- making structure. The AU initiatives are taken over and “contextualised” by the regional organisations. Conversely, initiatives taken at the regional level can subsequently be transferred to the AU. Regarded as the highest decision-making authority, the AU is authorised, when appropriate, to take the African “resolution” to the United Nations Organisation.
In some crises, this scenario leads to a genuine synergy of the actions of the various bodies. This was the case in the Malian crisis: the combination of the ECOWAS and AU initiatives enabled a request to be submitted to the United Nations. This approach resulted – with the endorsement of France – in a resolution for military intervention to liberate the north of the country from the armed groups.Year in and year out, an African diplomacy is at work. Ultimately, realism demands that the regional institutions should be consolidated to offset the vulnerability of the states and the economic dynamics: the combined regional diplomatic efforts based on shared political cultures will constitute the common identity of a continental diplomacy. A joint diplomacy will be created upstream, reflecting the diversity of the continent, based on taking cognizance of plural and indeed democratic approaches which will facilitate its implementation everywhere.
However, this plurality cannot stray from the shared Charter of the “values” under the continued guardianship of the AU. The general acceptance of the moral authority of the AU, based on a continental treaty, would make the organisation the regulator and arbiter of regional policies. This architecture could be regarded as an essential passage, a realistic route, to establishing the peaceful configuration of an African diplomatic “identity”. As preparations are made to create such an architecture, a nagging question keeps surfacing in the African diplomatic bodies: can the concept of sovereignty be combined indefinitely with a strong financial and military dependence on the outside world? The recent security crises in Mali and in the Central African Republic have cruelly exposed the limitations of the regions’ ability to guarantee the security of the member countries and their citizens. The decisive nature of the French and UN military interventions in these countries has seriously undermined the “African diplomatic capacity”, which basically entails endless meetings and summits whose significance dissipates as soon as the determining military factor depends on the involvement of foreign actors.
This clear dependency of African politics on foreign military strength has contributed to making the states vulnerable and to the escalation of domestic threats. In view of increasing reactive and critical opinion in relation to this “anomaly”, the inter-African offensive against Boko Haram, led by Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, until a multinational African force can be put in place, gives hope for a “new dawn” in African military self-determination. We can hope that this continental momentum carries the seeds of an increased independence in relation to the outside world.
•1 Jean Ping, Éclipse sur l’Afrique. Fallait-il tuer Kadhafi ?, éditions Michalon, Paris, 2014.
•2 Cf. Facilité de soutien à la paix pour l’Afrique, EU Annual Report; Cyril Musila, “Le partenariat UA/UE sur la paix et la sécurité”, Irénées.net, February 2015 (http://www. irenees.net/bdf_fiche-expérience-818_fr.html).
•3 Text adopted at Addis Ababa at the 8th session of the Conference of the Heads of the Member States of the African Union.
•5 The ex-President of Mali, Alpha Oumar Konaré, was elected as the chairperson of the African Union Commission on 10 July 2003 for a four-year term.
There was little comment on the affair at the time. On 25 February 2010, in a disturbing scenario at Bamako airport, the Malian authorities handed over to President Nicolas Sarkozy in person a French...
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