In The News

The End Of The Affair?

  • PublishedOctober 20, 2011

What does the defeat of Muammar AlGathafi mean to Africa? A lot, including the disunity of the African Union itself.

The defeat of Muammar Al Gathafi’s army in Libya is the ending of several important ideas and alliances that have shaped the African geo-strategic architecture in the post independence period. The first is the seeming collapse in credibility and, maybe in the long run if we are not careful, even the legitimacy of many of the anti-colonial and nationalist actors who brought independence.

Beginning with Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt in July 1952, Africans led by some incredible men, north and south of the Sahara, began winning the long fight which had been gathering speed for at least half a century against the European colonial powers to return political freedoms, land, African dignity and independence.

Lest we forget, some of these campaigns involved murderous responses from the departing colonialists. In Libya, for instance, between 1922-28, the Italians are said by Arab historians to have been responsible for the death of over 80,000 Libyans in Cyrenaica, a third of the population, following an uprising against them.

The nationalists not only secured independence, but had in many cases, like Muammar Al Gathafi, supported other continental liberation struggles, expelled foreign bases and nationalised important assets such as oil.

The second important idea that seems to be disappearing in the debris of Libya is the Afro-Arab alliance. After his 1952 revolution, Nasser, the major North African figure, in The Philosophy of the Revolution, theorised the alliance, locating Egypt within three circles – Arab, Islamic and African – but also acted on this understanding.

Egypt, alongside 12 Asian countries, helped sponsor the first UN resolution in September 1952 against apartheid. Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and others, then deepened the alliance, consolidating in the Organisation of African Unity. Al Gathafi, who imagined himself as Nasser’s heir, has in his own way and for his own ambitions, been the most vocal supporter in the North, of that unity and the Afro-Arab alliance.

The alliance has been under strain for a while – particularly in the Afro-Arab Sahelian borderlands. South Sudan and Darfur put the alliance under immense pressure. The sidelining of the AU on Libya, and the Arab League’s decisive role suggests a fatal rupture.

Of the other countries of the North, Morocco is no longer a member of the AU and is more focused on its relationship with Europe; ditto Tunisia, which is now also preoccupied by its internal problems. Egypt, which is also internally preoccupied, has over the years been minimising its African engagement, and seems really only interested in protecting its lifeline – the River Nile. Only Algeria remains, frozen in time and still run by its nationalist anti-colonial generation. For how long?

The third important geo-strategic idea that has spectacularly unravelled over the Libya debacle and perhaps the most dangerous – is the disunity of the AU itself, and especially between the two great powers of Africa, south of the Sahara – Nigeria and South Africa.
Both voted at the UN for the “no-fly zone” Resolution 1973 and it is important to say that without their vote, the resolution would not have been passed. Since then however, the South Africans have been in the forefront of pressing for an African resolution and power-sharing. Nigeria has recognised Libya’s Transitional National Council, outside of this framework.

On two occasions in the last year – Côte d’Ivoire and Libya – Nigeria has sided with western powers over the solution of an African problem, and South Africa has not. This division between the two great powers of the South is not healthy for African unity and the defence of our homeland. Important values and principles are obviously at stake – each government needs to outline them clearly. We need to debate them and then both need to get behind the position that best defends our continent and empowers its people in the coming storm.

We staked out a position and united, during the nationalist struggles. And we won.

Written By
Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *