Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Muammar Qadaffi: Pan-Africanist Hero, or Genocidaire?

Dear Readers

Pan-Africanists (and Leftists) are in an uproar about the bombing of Libya. This post will examine the different sides of the issue.

My quick take

Qadaffi worked hard to defeat apartheid. He has struggled to position Libya as an African country, not an Arab country. He has supported the African Union. He should be praised for these notable accomplishments. Qadaffi has tortured journalists, cut off all communication with the outside world, and fired on innocent civilians. Libya is in a humanitarian crisis as refugees flood into Tunisia and Egypt. It looked like Qadaffi was willing to fire on his own people in order to stay in power. The bombing of Libya is justified. It should cease as soon as a no-fly zone is enforced. No troops should be used. The West should retreat, and turn over the enforcement to Egypt, Tunisia, and other African and Arab countries as soon as possible.

Review of Events

The unrest in Libya began on February 15, 2011. The main reasons for the protests were the lack of political freedom, the spread of corruption under the Qadaffi regime, and the need to expand freedom of speech. Thousands turned out peacefully in Benghazi holding signs and chanting to challenge Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's 41 year strongman rule. On February 26, 2011, The UN Security council called for a no-fly zone in Libya.

On March 3, 2011, The Arab League asked Qadaffi to stop the bloodshed. "The Arab resolution called on the Libyan government to respond to the "legitimate demands of the Libyan people" and to stop bloodshed. The Libyan authorities must lift restrictions on media and mobile networks and allow the delivery of aid." Libya was suspended from the Arab League. The Secretary General of the Arab League is Amr Moussa, a likely Egyptian Presidential Candidate. On March 13, the Arab League endorsed the concept of a no-fly zone over Libya. On March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for military action in Libya.

According to the Nation, in an article entitled Libya and the Dilemma of Intervention Libya and the Dilemma of Intervention published on March 18, 2011, the UN Security Council took some diplomatic steps before authorizing military intervention. The UN Security Council mandated freezing the regime's assets, imposing sanctions on Qadaffi and his associates, and organizing humanitarian assistance.  (Thanks to Olga Martin for sensitising me to this issue)

On March 19, 2011, The US, France and Britain launched air strikes to enforce the no-fly zone. According to Kenya's Nation Newspaper, on March 20,The African Union's panel on Libya on Sunday called for an "immediate stop" to all attacks on Libya.The AU committee on Libya is composed of five African heads of state. But the Nouakchott meeting was only attended by the presidents of Mauritania, Mali and Congo. South Africa and Uganda were represented by ministers

On March 21, Libya Released four New York Times journalists. Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Lynsey Addario and Anthony Shadid were captured while covering the conflict between Loyalist and Rebel forces in Libya in the eastern city of Adjabiya. The journalists were tied up, all were punched on a daily basis. The female journalist was fondled, groped and beaten. They were threatened with death and denied food. According to the New York Times "Others have died. A Libyan broadcaster was killed Saturday while covering a battle near Benghazi. A cameraman for Al Jazeera was killed in the same area on March 12, the first death of a journalist in Libya during the current conflict."

On March 24th, according to Al Jazeera, air strikes are not deterring Qadaffi. Western war planes bombed Libya for a fifth night, but Libya is still shelling the opposition. The US says it has successfully established a no-fly zone over Libya's coastal areas. The allies have flown 175 sorties in 114 hours, and the US has flown 113 of those. The Washington Post reports the US and its allies are straining to maintain Arab support for the conflict in Libya. Egyptian officials are worried that the conflict will spill over the border. Qatar has deployed fighter jets in the region, and could help enforce the no-fly zone in coming days, although no action has actually been taken yet.

A Review of Positions:

Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda saysWhy Not Let Libyans Solve Their Own Problems?  Obviously, Museveni has a dog in this fight. He came to power by military means and he is an autocrat, although a benign one, who allows some kind of elections. He has been in power for a long long time (over two decades) He provides a review of Qadaffi's good points, some of which resonate with me, and some of which make me chuckle! These "good" points include the fact that Qadaffi is a true nationalist, he gave Museveni weapons during his own struggle for power, he helped raise the cost of Arab oil by encouraging cartel behavior, Qadaffi has made Libya a middle income country, and, Qadaffi is a secular leader. Museveni argues that it was proper to use force against the protesters, because they were "insurrectionists." He says the Libyan rebels should fight their own wars, lest they be called puppets. So bottom line - Museveni says No foreign involvement in sovereign countries.

Gerald A.Perreira writing in the Liberator on March 4, 2011 made an argument that is fairly compelling. His position shakes me down to my toes, and makes me wonder if I am wrong. He argues "The battle that is being waged in Libya is fundamentally a battle between Pan-African forces on the one hand, who are dedicated to the realization of Qaddafi’s vision of a united Africa, and reactionary racist Libyan Arab forces who reject Qaddafi’s vision of Libya as part of a united Africa and want to ally themselves instead with the EU and look toward Europe and the Arab World for Libya’s future." [Long sentence Gerald :-)] This is a strong argument and I am listening.

However, Qadaffi's decision to shut off all channels of information, and torture journalists from the Times strikes me as fundamentally undemocratic. Accordingly, I am going to maintain my position for the moment while I keep reading . . . .

March 24, 2011

Riz Khan, a journalist from Al Jazeera, reports that there is a growing chorus from developing and Bric countries including Turkey, China and India in opposition to the strike Putin says that the UN resolution is "a medieval call to crusade." Question to Prime Minister Putin, since the Arab League asked for the no-fly zone, how can it be a call to crusade? Puzzled . . . . .

Richard Falk has a good piece on the moral ambiguities of intervention. He argues that "But with respect to Libya there is no firm evidence of a genocidal intention on Gaddafi's, no humanitarian catastrophe in the making, and not even clear indications of the extent of civilian casualties resulting from the fighting." Very thoughtful analysis, and definitely made me reconsider my views. One issue I have with Falk's piece is that the West has already intervened, where do we go from here? We need action steps at this point, not analysis of past actions.

Juan Cole argues that the UN no-fly zone over Libya is risky but it can have a good outcome if it has an expiration date, if it is not a war, but is just a no fly zone, if it moves towards a diplomatic solution, and so forth.

The Ugandan Daily Monitor says that the African Union should move with the times and oppose Qadaffi's four decades of oppression. That paper says that they recognize the need to respect a nation's sovereignty, but they strongly disagree that sovereignty should be maintained when the people are at risk, and are opposing the government with their loves.

Writing in the New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof argues that the military intervention in Libya has averted a humanitarian catastrophe. He states that this intervention should be recognized under the United Nations' label of Responsibility to Protect. He suggests that it is much better to intervene quickly in Libya, than to wait and allow the slaughter to proceed as occurred in Kosovo [and might I add Rwanda. WMB] Kristof and I believe that most Libyans support foreign intervention. The costs of inaction, argue Kristof, were the slaughter of the civilian populations in Benghazi and Tobruk.

Comments on Positions by African Scholars

My colleague Matunda Nyanchama from the Kenya Studies Association says to the group in an email conversation "As I wrote in another forum, the Libyan strongman's time is long gone; he has overstayed the welcome. He has done terrible things (sponsoring terrorism, supporting murderous regimes such as Idi Amin's, etc.) and he hasn't opened up the democratic space (but who has in the Arab World?). On the other hand, Libya has invested heavily in Africa and in many countries like Italy . . . A time comes for leaders to go; having fed Libyans, offered good medical services and education, they are demanding better; and if he were a statesman, he would have stepped aside and hand over the baton. But again, he came to power by the sword; he could possibly die by the same.The question remains though [regarding] the criteria of intervention target selection by western nations. How come they aren't in Bahrain? Or Yemen?"

Matunda makes a valid point. Why is the West bombing Libya, but not supporting protesters in Bahrain? Indeed, the US is essentially allowing Saudi troops to crack down on civilian protesters in Bahrain with no comment. 

John Mulaa, a researcher and consultant at the World Bank, argues that "The simple fact is that foreign policy is never a fertile ground for perfect consistency. You do what you can, where you can, when you can. If theWest could topple the Iranian or North Korean regimes at no cost in lives or treasure whatsoever, they would do it tomorrow. But the West can’t. This is a game opponents of any intervention always play, “What makes X so different than Y?” The easiest answer is that we have a ripe opportunity in X and not in Y. Now, there may be good substantive arguments against intervening in Libya. But saying “Why not Bahrain, too?” is not one of them."

Kenyan attorney Bosire Maragia notes that each state has a set of foreign policies that define how it relates with other states.

My gut reactions

March 22, 2011

I am beginning to get a headache. Was I wrong to support intervention? I am questioning my own position now. Uggh, this is very, very difficult.

March 24, 2011
8:49 p.m. Feeling a little better about my position after reading Kristof's article. Headache subsiding.

March 25, 2011
11:00 a.m.
I am beginning to worry about how long this conflict is going to drag on. I am also frustrated that the other Arab nations are not stepping up and taking the lead on this. Of course, they are worried that they are next. Syria and Bahrain are very distressing politically as the crackdown on dissidents intensifies. 


  1. I don't think so that bombing of Libya is justified in any case. Qaddafi is killing innocent civilians directly, while West is creating economical, political, psychological and social hurdles for these people indirectly.
    I think we should support diplomatic solution for this issue, as bullet is not justified but a meaningful dialogue.

  2. Dear Kashif. It is really great to get your views on the matter. This one is very difficult, so I totally can see both sides. The best thing would be if other Arab and African countries took the lead in dealing with Libya, instead of just wringing their hands. Thanks again! Warigia