Pambazuka News

The peace and justice movement and the NATO bombing of Libya

The need for clarity on the AU roadmap for peace

Horace Campbell

2011-07-07, Issue 538

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Those within the peace and justice movement seeking an end to NATO’s illegal bombing of Libya must also be careful not to extend misplaced support for dictators, writes Horace Campbell.


On 26 June 2011 there was a community meeting in our home town of Syracuse to oppose the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) bombing of Libya. This meeting was the last stop of the Eyewitness Libya tour featuring Cynthia McKinney. McKinney, (former US congresswoman from Georgia and presidential candidate for the Green Party) was on a tour of the United States to draw attention to the illegal bombing of NATO in Libya and the terror being unleashed against innocent people in the name of protecting civilians. The other speakers at this community event were Akbar Mohammed of the Nation of Islam and Derek Ford, a local organiser for Answer. Answer is one faction of the US peace and justice movement that has been opposed to US militarism, organising under the banner of ‘Act now to end war and oppose racism’. The event to oppose the NATO bombing was held at the Alibrandi Center of Syracuse University and co-sponsored by the Pan African Community of Central New York (PACCNY).

The meeting represented a missed opportunity. While the platform opposed the NATO bombing in Libya, there was a lack of clarity on what the meeting stood for, especially in relation to the equivocation of Cynthia McKinney over the character of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. In the face of the reality where there is no moral or political support in the world for the present NATO bombing, the peace and justice movement must be clear about not only what they are against, but what they are for. It is up to the peace movement to clarify the paths to peace and to push for an end to the military campaign of the West. The West has lost credibility with the stalemate after more than 100 days of bombing. It is now clear that there is no military solution and only the African Union roadmap for a ceasefire provides a framework for an end to the illegal bombing.

It is important here to restate the principal components of the roadmap of the African Union.

The roadmap was a five-point plan, demanding the following:

- a ceasefire
- the protection of civilians
- the provision of humanitarian aid for Libyans and foreign workers in the country
- dialogue between the two sides, vis-à-vis the Gaddafi regime and the Transitional National Council, leading to an ‘inclusive transitional period’
- political reforms which ‘meet the aspirations of the Libyan people’.

Currently, Russia, China, Turkey, India, the Caribbean community (CARICOM) and even members of NATO are supporting the African Union plan for a ceasefire, and after the meeting of the African Union last week, sections of the National Transitional Council tepidly accepted the mediation of the AU with South Africa, Congo, Mali, Uganda and Mauritania as representatives of the African Union.


A clear position on the need to oppose the NATO bombing and to oppose the Gaddafi regime came from the Pan African Community of Central New York (PACCNY) president Hdayatu Salawu. Dr Salawu succinctly stated her position on behalf of PACCNY, and was consistent with the overarching position of the organisation in opposing imperialism and opposing African dictators.

The next speaker, Akbar Mohammed, spoke at length defending past dictators such as Idi Amin Dada of Uganda. In an attempt to point out how the popular opinion on political leaders and events is shaped by the corporate media in the West, Akbar Mohammed used the vilification of Idi Amin Dada as an example of how the West shaped popular opinion on African leaders.

This was a very bad example indeed; one did not need the West to shape popular opinion on Idi Amin. After eight years in power (1971–79), Idi Amin had massacred over 300,000 Ugandans. Akbar Mohammed went further to exaggerate the support of Idi Amin in Uganda by saying to the audience that over a million persons turned out in Uganda for his funeral after he passed away in Saudi Arabia. The amount of detail on Uganda and Idi Amin made in the presentation by Akbar would have led anyone listening to think that this was an event about the rehabilitation of Idi Amin and not about the illegal bombing of Libya by NATO.

Akbar as a national leader of the Nation of Islam did not have his information correct because Idi Amin passed away and his body was not returned to Uganda. Hence, even the small points that Akbar Mohammed wanted to make about the resources of Libya – water and oil – were lost by his uncritical support for leaders such as Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, Laurent Gbagbo and Muammar Gaddafi. These leaders can be called anti-imperialist but peace and justice forces must be nuanced enough to be anti-imperialist and oppose dictators at the same time. Anti-imperialism and opposition to anti-imperial dictators, in support for the people’s aspirations, are not mutually exclusive.

Because of the length of the presentation by Akbar Mohammed, the time spent by Cynthia McKinney to present her Eyewitness report to the bombing was limited and taken up by video clips of the impact of the bombing. While telling the truth about the devastation of the bombing, Cynthia McKinney missed an opportunity to educate the audience on the contradictions in Libyan society.


It devolved to a long-time revolutionary from Kenya in the audience, Dr Micere Githae Mugo, to clarify to Cynthia McKinney and Akbar Mohammed that those who were mobilising against imperial interventions had to be courageous and speak out against African dictators at the same time. Drawing from her own experiences as a freedom fighter in Kenya against the Moi dictatorship, Dr Mugo pointed to the fact that one must also recognise the democratic struggles against dictators in Africa. She wanted Cynthia McKinney to explain how a leader could justify being in power for 42 years. Her clarity pointed to the reality that while progressives cannot oppose Mugabe and Gaddafi from the same platform as those of settlers and imperialists, they must nonetheless be opposing dictatorship because they have turned the principles of freedom and liberation against the people. She pointed to the fact that while Mugabe and the ZANU-PF leadership started out as freedom fighters, their present level of accumulation and disregard for the people have removed them from the ranks of progressives. Howie Hawkins, the local activist from the Green Party, queried why Cynthia McKinney did not support the roadmap of the African Union.

The political changes in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired the peoples of Africa and the Middle East to rise up against dictatorships. These uprisings threaten the future of Western imperialism, especially in areas where there are fossil fuel deposits such as Libya. The efforts to manipulate international instruments such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to serve the interests of Western oil companies cannot halt the present drive for social justice. The arrest warrant of the International Criminal Court for Gaddafi and his sons carries no influence as long as the West continues to be partial in deciding who are war criminals.

The capitalist depression and the increased exploitation of working peoples in Europe and North America ensure that the masses of the people cannot be persuaded easily to support military adventures while there are millions out of work and the people are being called on to make sacrifices.


When the British, French and US pushed through Resolution 1973 through the Security Council of the UN with the mandate to protect civilians, the Western leaders had promised their populations that within days, the political map of Libya would change. The very same forces that had been supported by the billions of dollars from Libya now turned against Muammar Gaddafi. Now, in the face of the resistance of the Libyan people, it is clearer that the bombing of Libya will not bring a quick military solution. If anything, the bombing has qualitatively changed the political calculus to unleash more sympathy for Gaddafi in the face of the indiscriminate NATO bombing.

The head of the Arab League has reversed its support for the NATO exercise and now the bombing is with moribund political, military or moral support. Even within the US military, it is now clearer that the prestige and influence of the US military is diminished with every day that the NATO bombing continues. What started out as a public relations exercise for the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) is turning into a propaganda nightmare as citizens do not want to be associated with the bombing and killing of innocent civilians in Tripoli. There is little support for the bombing in the Congress of the United States and the Obama administration presents contradictory reasons for its continued involvement in this illegal bombing. The debate over the War Powers Act has revealed a deeper problem for the military and financial establishment. This is the reality that the citizens will not continue to support expenditures on wars to support oil companies while there is economic austerity at home. Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic representative from Ohio in Congress, has been an outspoken opponent of the bombing, and has been explicit in calling on Congress to cut off funds for the Libyan operation. In one broadside he noted:

‘The US Congress must act to cut off funds for the war because there is no military solution in Libya. Serious negotiations for a political solution must begin to end the violence and create an environment for peace negotiations to fulfill the legitimate, democratic aspirations of the people. A political solution will become viable when the opposition understands that regime change is the privilege of the Libyan people, not of NATO.’

This clear position is only limited by the fact that Kucinich stopped short of supporting the African Union roadmap.


As the war continues, both NATO and sections of the financial–oil–military oligarchy become desperate and this desperation is now manifesting itself in the supply of weapons to the Transitional National Council by France. Jean Ping of the African Union correctly noted that France's decision to supply arms to the Libyan rebels was ‘dangerous and compromises the security of the whole region’. He called it the Somaliaisation of the region.

This observation is cogent in so far as the West continues to be shocked by the tenacity of the revolutionary forces in Egypt and so want to have a foothold next door in order to be ready to intervene against the consolidation of the transformations in Egypt and Tunisia. This fact along with the oil deposits in Libya will continue to prompt the oil companies to plan for a military presence in North Africa.

However, there is no military solution. A long-term political solution to the past undemocratic rule will not come overnight. Africa learnt this fact the hard way after the Tanzanian army intervened militarily to remove the Idi Amin regime in Uganda in 1979. After the removal of Idi Amin, the political immaturity of the Ugandan forces led to years of instability and war. Akbar Mohammed of the Nation of Islam did not realise that by using Idi Amin as his example of an anti-imperialist leader, he was reminding people that it was the same Gaddafi who sent troops and aircraft to support the murderous Idi Amin regime in Uganda.

The future of Libya as a peaceful country requires an end to the bombing and the end of the Gaddafi regime. The Libyan situation demands that the peace and justice movement be critical and nuanced enough to not only oppose all forms of imperialism in Africa but to also fight against the Africanisation of imperialism and oppression by African dictators. Leaders in societies such as Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon and Uganda – among others – are watching to see if brute force can stop the tide of change. The tide is irreversible and as the capitalist crisis deepens there will be more rebellions.

Now that Gaddafi himself has accepted the terms of the African Union roadmap, including the provision that he stand aside in order to bring about a ceasefire, the peace and justice movement in the US must support the African Union so that the United Nations will be pressured to end the mandate of NATO and end the illegal bombing of the people of Libya.


* Horace Campbell is professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’. See
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

There are 6 comments on this article.

Horace is getting it wrong here. Gadaffi's long years in power is no justification for carnage NATO is inflicting on an African country When your neighbour's house is on fire, you help to put it out fast before you start theorising about justifications and motive.
Today, it is Libya and Gsaddafi whose children are being killed by NATO bombs. How long has the Queen of Ebngland been on the throne? Howe about the other Monarchs of Europe?
At any rate to suggest that since Gadaffi has been in power for a long time, Libya should be destroyed by imperialist bombs is sinister. I am beginning to wonder where Horace is coming from. Yes, we must oppose this nonsense emanating from NATO and its imperialist allies. The Libyan people should be given the right to democratically chose their own leaders.

Zaya Yeebo

This article and its subtle defence of American imperialism by Horace Campbell represents one side of the argument.

We talk of American democray, but what kind of democracy interferes in the universities, so that professors are tyranized into writing/teaching using double standards to please the establishment in order to keep their tenure?

Such a professor's tenure is also a reward (or bribe) to hold such a position in order to influence (brainwash) students with his wish-washy ideas and thereby support imperialism or intervention into sovereign states like Libya for oil.

But I want to assure Horace Campbell that not all professors write like him. Not even the students agree with him. Calling Gaddafi a 'dictator' while claiming that he is a professor of African studies tells it all.

Did you Campbell see the video of 1.7 million people marching in support of the Brother Leader Gaddafi in Tripoli? Did he dictate to them to go into the streets?

What about the one million people in the streets of Sirte in support of Gaddafi? Campbell, please research and read more widely in this area.

How many African Americans agree with this elitist Campbell, chocking Africans with his elitist chauvinism?

Campbell should attend the Harlem march to see for himself. Perhaps that will help him overcome his double standards.


As the local coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition in Syracuse and one of the organizers of the "Eyewitness Libya" event here, I wanted to respond to some of the points made in this article in an effort to clarify the position of the ANSWER Coalition and the tasks of the anti-war movement.

First, we were very pleased that the Pan African Community of Central New York agreed to co-sponsor the event, which we worked hard to organize, fund, provide logistics for, etc... PACCNY helped make the event a success, and we heard many compliments from attendees after the event. Second, I apologize for the tardiness of this response. I did not see this article until yesterday.

One can only consider the event a "missed opportunity" if one missed the intention of the event. If the purpose was to come to a unified position on the African Union proposal or a consensus on Gaddafi, then perhaps it was a missed opportunity. This was not the purpose of the event, however, and it must not be the focus of the anti-war movement in the U.S.

Since before the war on Libya began, the ANSWER Coalition has been mobilizing to build a United Front in opposition to the war. This means that, while there are certain political, philosophical, and theological differences between the groups that we are working with, our unity is not artificial. Our points of unity are as follows: 1) Opposition to U.S./NATO intervention, bombing, and sanctions, 2) Respect for Libyan sovereignty, and 3) Explicit refusal to participate in the war-makers demonization campaign.

Our points of unity do not require a unified position on Gaddafi. Amongst the panelists in Syracuse and throughout the nationwide tour, no identical view was expressed. At the event I stated explicitly and repeatedly that we in the ANSWER Coalition do not share an identical political line with Gaddafi. We do not need to in order to organize against the war.

We will not, however, participate in the demonization of Gaddafi or his government. We did not participate in the demonization of Noreaga, Milosovic, or Hussein. To do so is only to add ammunition to the imperialist’s arsenal. The purpose of the “Eyewitness Libya” tour was to mobilize opposition to the war by showing the side of the conflict that has been hidden by the White House, Pentagon, and their media outlets. If one wants to condemn Gaddafi perhaps one should call into the Glen Beck show, or write a letter to the editors of the Washington Post or the New York Times.

During the present circumstances, one cannot oppose U.S./NATO intervention at the same time as one is chanting “Down with Gaddafi.” As bombs continue to kill civilians in Tripoli, many in the “peace” movement have issued statements espousing that they are as anti-intervention as they are anti-Gaddafi. This is an incoherent and disorienting political position to take, and it is telling that those who are taking this position have done nothing to actively organize against the war.

The anti-war movement in the imperialist countries cannot cooperate with the imperialists or mobilize around their slogans! Our only task is to oppose U.S./NATO intervention and defend the sovereignty of the Libyan people who have been demonstrating in the millions in defense of Libya. Many of them, we can assume, are critical of Gaddafi. They have united with Gaddafi supporters and Gaddafi himself, to oppose the intervention. Why can’t progressive forces in the U.S. help build the same unity?

On July 9, we organized a demonstration in front of the White House to oppose the war. Thousands of people came from all over the country (you can read a report and watch a video at Next, on August 13, there will be a massive march in Harlem, NYC. We call on all genuine anti-war groups and individuals to join us, and we hope to continue working locally with PACCNY.

Derek Ford, ANSWER Coalition

Thank you for this insightful piece. The following sums up the core argument and bears repeating: "...peace and justice forces must be nuanced enough to be anti-imperialist and oppose dictators at the same time. Anti-imperialism and opposition to anti-imperial dictators, in support for the people’s aspirations, are not mutually exclusive." Why is this so difficult for freedom loving people to understand? This is a 30 year debate that is old and tired--we must move forward good people.

Fanon Che Wilkins Doshisha University

The affairs of Libyan society and peoples are theirs to decide. If NATO intervenes, we should simply side with the defenders against the aggressors.

For me as a European, i will not condemn any government attacked by my society and see no need to. Just get out and stay out forever.

Carst Heinrigs

Horace Campbell is getting out of the argument. Having written a book on Obama, he's fronting his American or Western ideas as opposed to African ideas concerning Libya.

Amin could have been a dictator, but the British propped up Amin. Again, Gaddafi could have sent troops to aid Amin out of ignorance, but he, Gaddafi, also aided Mandela and ANC in south Africa to fight the racist regime there. Gaddafi helped renovate a palace for an ancient kingdom in Uganda, which is a plus.

Again it was not the Americans who helped Ugandans get rid of Amin. It was Tanzanians and Ugandans who got rid of Amin. Cynthia Mckinley has a better point than Campbell. She's clearly opposed to American imperialism, something Campbell is rather silent about; she's also visited Libya, and seen the American NGOs, drinking cold Heineken on the Tunisian border waiting to get into Libya for a spoil.
Campbell, however, keeps on vaguely talking about general imperialism.

Obama is clearly wrong in bombing Libya together with NATO. He is actually the 'prefect' of NATO, and this is a disappointment to Africa. His father came from Africa. As such, descendants of Africans in the diaspora, including Campbell, should listen to the voices of Africans from the continent and not presume to know more about the continent to the extent of imposing Western views on Africans.

It doesn't work that way Horace. We know something that you only read about in books or newspapers, or in your research. Ours is practical knowledge.

Getting published for an American is easy in Africa. But it doesn't mean that what an American publishes in Africa is the gospel truth. Campbell should express solidarity with Africans and AU, instead of using his African ancestry to sneak in white Western views from the American mainstream culture.

Who determines for Africa that their leaders are dictators? There was a dictator in Chile propped up by America. There were other dictators in Columbia and others in South America, propped up by America. In Africa, America propped up Mobutu, after the murder of beloved pan-Africanist Lumumba.