Gaddafi warrant stymies AU

29 June 2011 - 00:47 By S'Thembiso Msomi

The African Union's bid to find a political solution to the Libyan conflict has been made more complicated by the International Criminal Court's issuing of a warrant of arrest for the north African state's ruler, Muammar Gaddafi.

Only two days after President Jacob Zuma and other members of the AU ad hoc committee on Libya announced a "breakthrough", the ICC declared Gaddafi a wanted man.

The "breakthrough" was Gaddafi's apparent agreement that he should not take part in talks among Libyans about peace and the future of the country.

This, from an AU perspective, gave hope that "Brother Leader", who has ruled Libya for 42 years, was close to handing over power peacefully.

But the AU now fears that such hope has been dashed for good by the warrant for the arrest of the colourful dictator.

It fears that Gaddafi, knowing that leaving Libya or handing over power would result in his prosecution at The Hague, will dig in his heels and intensify the civil war.

Zuma and his fellow AU members feel that the ICC decision, like the continuing Nato strikes against Gaddafi's forces, undermines their efforts to bring peace to the troubled land.

Zuma's spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, said: "President Zuma is extremely disappointed and concerned over the issuing of a warrant by the ICC.

"It's unfortunate that the ICC could take such a decision while the AU, through the ad hoc committee, has done so much.

"Progress so far signals that there is a commitment now from both the Libyan authority led by Gaddafi and the [insurgents'] Transitional National Council."

Though Zuma's reaction is understandable, considering that he is driving the AU peace initiative, it again highlights South Africa's inconsistency in international affairs.

As a member of the UN Security Council, South Africa in February backed the adoption of resolution 1970, which referred the Libyan conflict to the ICC.

As in the case of UN Security Council resolution 1973, which imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and gave Western powers justification for air raids, surely the government should have foreseen where such a resolution would lead.

Having said that, the ICC - and Nato before it - should have given the AU approach a chance before resorting to drastic measures that might exacerbate rather than solve the bloody conflict.

Critics of the continental body scoff at the idea of the AU finding a genuine solution to any conflict in Africa.

The AU's lenient treatment of despots such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has generated much cynicism about the body's political will and ability. Too many believe that AU leaders are only concerned with protecting their own, rather than resolving conflicts.

Yet, on the whole, its approach of seeking a peaceful resolution to conflict rather than resorting to arms has been a success.

African diplomatic efforts were largely responsible for the attainment of peace and stability in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The brutal Liberian civil war would not have ended in 2003 had it not been for Nigeria and other African states convincing Charles Taylor to hand over power.

Even in instances in which outside parties have used force - as in Sierra Leone, where a Nigerian-led UN military assault put an end to a rebel army - the solution has been more effective with Africans involved.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, like Gaddafi, certainly has a case to answer for human rights abuses.

But just imagine if Bashir were arrested and sent to The Hague soon after the ICC issued a warrant for him.

We would not have a peaceful partitioning of the vast east African country or the creation of South Sudan as an independent state.

What former president Thabo Mbeki's efforts in Sudan have demonstrated is that, given a chance, AU initiatives can lead to the peaceful resolution of even the most complicated conflicts.