Opposing Gaddafi’s massacre and foreign intervention in Libya
2011-03-24, Issue 522
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The Union shall have the right ‘to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity’ – Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union.
The images of Tomahawk cruise missiles and bombs raining down on Libya from British, French, and US warplanes have ensured that many people now oppose the foreign military intervention in Libya. Yet, the same people were condemning the killing of civilians by the dying Gaddafi regime. On the surface, it may seem to be a contradiction to oppose both the West and Gaddafi, but this contradiction arises from the reality that there is no popular democratic force in Africa capable of mounting the kind of intervention that is necessary to translate Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act (the charter) of the African Union into action. There is no international brigade similar to the period of the Spanish Civil War when anti-fascist forces mobilised internationally to fight General Franco. There is no Tanzanian Peoples Defence Force (TPDF) with its tradition of supporting liberation that had the capabilities to fight and remove Idi Amin who was butchering Ugandans. The emerging new powers such as Turkey, Brazil, Russia, India and China are quite quick to do business in Africa but are quiet in the face of mass killings. In short, the world was willing to stand by as Gaddafi called those who opposed him ‘cockroaches’, ‘rats’, and ‘germs’ and vowed: ‘I will fight on to the last drop of my blood.’ The sight of the array of forces at the gates of Benghazi meant that this was not an idle threat.
Decent human beings who wanted to halt Gaddafi’s massacre welcomed UN resolution for a no-fly zone, especially the language of paragraph 6 which decided ‘to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians.’ France, Britain, and the US quickly used this authorisation for a no-fly zone to give themselves a mandate that is wider than the UN resolution, particularly capitalising on the looseness of the formulation of ‘all necessary measures’. Although the Africa Union issued a statement saying that, ‘the situation in North Africa demands urgent action so that an African solution can be found,’ the AU dragged its feet and gave up its responsibility to prevent the massacre of civilians in Libya, thus giving justification to the Western intervention. After forming a committee comprising of Mauritania, South Africa, Mali and Congo and Uganda, the AU sidelined itself at precisely the moment when clarity was needed to both oppose the Western intervention and to intervene to stop the killing of humans that Gaddafi called ‘rats and germs.’
Opportunistically, France and Britain mobilised to take the lead to intervene and were given the green light by the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 to establish a no-fly zone over Libya. Ten countries voted for the resolution on 17 March, while five (Brazil, China, India, Germany and Russia) abstained. By Saturday 20 March, it was clear that the bombing campaign of the imperial forces went far beyond the letter and spirit of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 whose mandate was to protect civilians. For this reason, even some of those states that voted for the UN resolution now oppose the bombings. All progressive persons must be opposed to any form of Western military intervention in Africa in this revolutionary moment.
In this contribution, we want to reiterate our opposition to the Western bombings. The Libyan people who are opposed to Gaddafi must take the leadership to fight Gaddafi. If they do not own the struggle and clarify how their policies will be different from Gaddafi’s, then we can end up with Gaddafism without Gaddafi being propped up by the West. We will agree with the statement by Peter Falk that, ‘Long ago, Gaddafi forfeited the legitimacy of his rule, creating the political conditions for an appropriate revolutionary challenge.’ This revolutionary challenge is still in its infancy and the imperial forces are acting quickly to ensure that the Libyan revolution is hijacked. The same people who armed and backed up Gaddafi should not be allowed to establish military foothold in Africa in the middle of a revolution.
From Equatorial Guinea to Ivory Coast and from Swaziland to Djibouti, there is an increasing need for a people-based African Union intervention force. One need not look further than the current AU chairman, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, to grasp the reality that the African revolution that started in Tunisia and Egypt and now gripping Libya is a revolution against the current leaders of the African Union.
THE AFRICAN UNION AND THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT
In the past 20 years the experiences of genocidal violence, genocidal politics, and actual incidents of genocide in Rwanda, Burundi, and elsewhere in Africa forced the coming into being of the African Union (AU). The Constitutive Act of the AU as quoted above gave the legal authority to the AU to intervene in situations such as now unfolding in Libya and Ivory Coast. It was Gaddafi who attempted to set himself up as one of the primary leaders of the AU. One of the ultimate tests of the commitment of the AU leaders hinged upon the translation of AU’s responsibility to protect into action by intervening to prevent crimes against humanity in any corner of the continent. It was the energetic work of the progressive movements within Africa that pushed the AU to adopt the principle of the Responsibility to Protect at the General assembly of the UN to the point where this concept was formally adopted by the Security Council of the United Nations in 2006. The very idea of responsibility to protect was aligned to Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union. There are three core pillars of the Responsibility to protect: First, an affirmation of the primary and continuing obligation of individual states to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, as well as incitement thereof; second, a commitment by the international community to assist states in meeting these obligations; and third, acceptance by UN member states of their responsibility to respond in a timely and decisive manner through the UN Security Council.
It was this alignment of the goals of the Constitutive Act of the African Union with the core principles of the Responsibility to Protect that influenced some Africans to support intervention to stop the slaughter of civilians in Eastern Libya.
It is now much clearer that it is only revolutionary changes in Africa that will bring into being the kind of political/diplomatic and military force that can give meaning to the Constitutive Act of the African Union. For a short period after the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela shamed the leaders of the OAU into dropping the clause of the ‘non interference in the internal affairs of member states.’ Yet, after the experiences of the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cote d’Ivoire, it became clearer that the present leadership stand as obstacle to fighting crimes against humanity. As the leadership of the ANC embraced neo-liberal capitalism and entered into business deals with leaders such as Robert Mugabe and Laurent Gbagbo, South Africa lost the moral authority to galvanize forces who wanted peace and reconstruction in Africa.
We can see from Ivory Coast and Libya that many African leaders look the other way because condemning such crimes amounts to self-indictment since most of them are involved in similar crimes in their bid to either perpetuate themselves in power or enrich themselves. That the current leaders of Africa could support the elevation of Teodoro Obiang Nguema to be the chairperson of this organisation pointed to the fact that most of these leaders such as Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Republic of Congo, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan , Paul Biya of Cameroon, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Ali Bongo of Gabon, King Mswati III of Swaziland, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, and Yahya Jammeh of Gambia are not serious about translating the letters of the Constitutive Act into reality. These leaders oversee societies where there is repression of the people’s aspirations to end decades of oppression and dictatorship.
The majority of the current leaders of the African Union have used their greed and insatiable hunger for political power to cause a devastating impediment to the AU’s ability effectively assert itself, whether in Ivory Coast or in Libya. Apart from leaders such as Museveni who have come out lately with disharmonious rhetoric in response to the situation in Libya, there is yet another group. These are the leaders who have maintained a high degree of audible silence about the situation. Among these two categories of African leaders, there are those who are cautious either because they too operate repressive governments or because they have benefitted from Gaddafi’s largesse in his failed bid to become Africa’s ‘king of kings’ or both. Gaddafi’s quest for power and his bid to become king of kings in Africa must be condemned for what it is: a backward thinking that was meant to entrench a crude subjugation and suppression of the African peoples, while posing to be anti-imperialist. When Gaddafi rallied the Mugabes and the Omar al-Bashirs of the continent, telling them that revolutionaries never quit power, true Pan-Africanists stood in opposition to this crude machination.
GADDAFI IS NOT ANTI-IMPERIALIST
Many progressive persons sympathise with Gaddafi because he represented himself as anti-imperialist leader who supported freedom fighters. However, a close examination of the political economy and cultural practices of Gaddafi would show that far from being anti-imperialist, he was like a semi-feudal leader. Gaddafi used Libyan people’s money to try to harness the reservoir of traditional rulers and buy over leaders from across the continent in order to gain support for his aspiration to become the despotic king of kings of Africa. In the process, Gaddafi was also grooming his son in a monarchical tradition to reproduce a semi-feudal political relation inside of Libya. On the international front, while Gaddafi was verbally anti-imperialist, over US$150 billion of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund was distributed between New York, Paris, London, and Geneva to support the speculative activities of international financial oligarchs. At the same time, Gaddafi used billions of dollars to support arms manufacturers in the West.
In a previous article about Gaddafi, I drew reference to his history of mischief making in Africa, noting his support for elements such as Charles Taylor, Foday Sankoh, and Idi Amin. Immanuel Wallerstein in his contribution titled, ‘Libya and the World Left’ spelt out clearly the reasons why Gaddafi cannot be considered as anti-imperialist. Wallerstein was speaking directly to Hugo Chavez and other left forces who have articulated support for Gaddafi. Revolutionaries in Latin America who oppose US imperialism need to be better educated about the real social conditions in African societies.
Even at this moment when the bombs are being rained down on Libya, Gaddafi exposed his true feelings about Africa when he threatened Europeans that he would open the floodgate of African immigrants to Europe. In other words, Gaddafi is playing to the racism and chauvinism of Europeans toward Africans. He was reminding them that he had signed an agreement to be the gate-keeper and immigration officer for Europe in North Africa. This was not the first time Gaddafi was making disparaging and racist remarks to Europeans about Africans. In 2010, Gaddafi demanded US$6.3 billion from the EU to help them forestall what he called the emergence of a ‘black Europe’ by checking the immigration of black Africans to Europe. Gaddafi referred to the migration of black Africans to Europe as ‘this influx of starving and ignorant Africans,’ which would determine whether Europe would ‘remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.’ According to the UK Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/7973649/Gaddafi-Europe-will-turn-black-unless-EU-pays-Libya-4bn-a-year.html ), when Gaddafi made his proposal, one Italian member of parliament, Luigi de Magistris, accused him of maintaining a ‘concentration camp’ of thousands of African migrants in the desert. Progressives who see Gaddafi as anti-imperialist are the ones who ought to be calling for the investigation of this claim.
Gaddafi cannot claim to be anti-imperialist after he and his sons spent Libyan people's money to finance the election of President Sarkozy. This revelation of the funding of Sarkozy was made by no other person than Gaddafi's son, Saif al Islam
This same Gaddafi was busy parading himself as an anti-imperial Pan-Africanist, while refusing to educate his people about the essence of Pan African solidarity. Gaddafi’s regime has been involved in the repression of black migrant workers in Libya. In 2000, workers from Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Ghana were targets of killings in Libya after the Gaddafi regime officials accused these migrant workers of spreading diseases, crimes, and drug trafficking. Accounts of migrant workers from these countries have revealed that Gaddafi’s deportation practices were so inhumane that deportees were packed like animals on aircrafts without seats for several hours of flight to their countries.
Progressive persons who accept Gaddafi’s claim as a Pan-Africanist and anti-imperialist should recall that it was in response to Gaddafi’s racism that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern over Libya's practices of racial discrimination against dark-skinned migrants and refugees. In 2004 this committee accused the Gaddafi regime of violating Article 6 of the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). This accusation states that Gaddafi failed to implement proper mechanisms for safeguarding individuals from racist actions that undermine human rights. And six years after this accusation, Gaddafi went ahead to make his racist remarks about black African immigrants turning Europe ‘black.’
Gaddafi espoused racism and divisiveness, and thus could not pursue true African solidarity in his 42 years of holding onto power. In the spirit of solidarity, we empathize with those Libyans who are opposed to the Gaddafi regime. In this same spirit, we call on those freedom fighters to educate their followers that Libya is an African country. Those fighting as revolutionaries for freedom and democracy cannot be targeting Africans from the south of the Sahara.
Gaddafi’s kind of manipulation of anti-imperialist sentiments while repressing the people’s aspirations is not new. In the past, leaders such as Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Idi Amin of Uganda represented themselves as anti-imperialists. Today, Russian oligarchs who are in bed with the Western oil companies represent themselves as anti-imperialists, without proving it with a people-centered solidarity. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe are other good examples of repressive leaders who are verbally anti-imperialist. Robert Mugabe is so nervous about the people organising for change that his police arrested citizens who were watching a video on the revolution in Egypt and charged them with treason.
Just as the forces of peace and social justice forthrightly opposed Western invasion and occupation of Iraq, we were also opposed to the leadership of Saddam Hussein. So now, we are making it clear: We oppose Gaddafi and his semi-feudal leadership just as we oppose the Western bombings.
African civil society must be more organised at this moment of revolution and counter-revolution. One Kenyan writer captured the call for African civil society to be more active to oppose the present governments in Africa. Onyango Oloo, called on African civil society to stand up and demand action from governments. ‘We have marches in New York City but none in Africa. We need to be part of the global voice against military action. Innocent civilians are being killed we need to put pressure on our governments.’ This pressure on governments must include the support for the forces fighting for social justice in all parts of Africa. It is not too late for the progressives in Africa to learn from the positive lessons of the intervention of Tanzania to remove Idi Amin of Uganda, or the positive lessons of the Cuban assistance to defeat the apartheid army in Angola. In the same vein, it is not too late for those who organise the uprising in Libya to organise a clear political front to be able to build a strong internal political force to resist and remove Gaddafi without imperial complications. The UN resolution that authorised the use of force also explicitly authorised all necessary means to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, except for a ‘foreign occupation force.’ The West is using the formulation of ‘all necessary means’ to give themselves the right to establish a new military foothold in Africa when revolution is sweeping Africa and the Middle East.
AFRICA IS MORE THAN MINERALS AND OIL
Brazil, China, India and Russia who were aware that Gaddafi was about to carry out massacres in Benghazi are critiquing the bombing by coalition forces. But it is time for members of the UN Security Council such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China to take a more forthright role against dictatorship in Africa. These four countries have expanded their commercial/mining relations in Africa in the past 10 years, but in the main have remained silent in relationship to stopping leaders such as Laurent Gbagbo and Gaddafi. In particular, Brazil represents itself as an emerging power, but seems to see its power as being in competition to sell arms to African leaders. In a country with over 80 million people of African descent and president of the UN Security Council in February, Brazil failed to take the lead in coordinating an international support for an African solution to the massacre in Libya. Similarly, China, India, and Russia have been condemning the bombings, but sat in the Security Council and allowed Britain, US, and France to manipulate the United Nations to start a new war. I agree with Peter Falk who has written elsewhere that, ‘The states that abstained acted irresponsibly.’ These states could have supported the no fly zone without giving the USA, Britain and France the leeway to insert language of ‘to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights.’
We want to reiterate that Brazil, Russia, India, and China must realise that the interests and human dignity of the African people must be placed above the prospecting for minerals and oil. It is not enough to stand on the fence and decry Western military intervention; these countries must be able to show people in situations such as Benghazi that there is such a thing as international humanitarian intervention devoid of ulterior motives for oil, minerals, and arms sales. Ultimately, it is the citizens of the US, France, and Britain who must restrain their governments that are implementing austerity measures at home while funding the bombing of Libya.
STRENGTHENING THE AFRICAN UNION
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have changed the political calculus in Africa. We need not repeat what has already been said about the hypocrisy of the West in intervening in Libya and not Bahrain and Yemen, where similar atrocities are being carried out. Could this Western intervention in Libya have been designed to plant Western military forces on the ground in Africa in order to derail the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions? At this time, the US is seeking to use this intervention to give visibility and credibility to the US Africa Command, a proxy force for private US capitalist forces in Africa.
The Peace and Security Council of the AU has the legal authority to intervene in Libya as well as in Ivory Coast. It is up to the progressive forces in Africa to agitate to remove those leaders and governments that are standing in the way of a strengthened people-centered African Union. The Egyptian revolution has pointed to the possibility for the people to transform the African political process by their self-mobilisation and self-organisation. These forms of self-mobilisation would be called upon to strengthen the African Union for a people-centered intervention force, especially as Western intervention has complicated the struggles in Libya and has opened up new possibilities for counterrevolution which have dire consequences for the wind of revolution blowing across Africa and the Middle East. As noted by one commentator in the British newspaper, The Guardian:
‘The fragile consensus on intervention achieved last week, when the UN security council approved ‘all measures necessary’ to protect Libyan civilians against Muammar Gaddafi's forces, has shattered in the wake of large-scale US, British and French ground and air attacks. The attacks were widely seen internationally as disproportionate, careless of civilian lives, and extending beyond the agreed plan to impose a defensive no-fly zone.’
The present bombings in North Africa have again alerted progressives to the laws of unforeseen consequences. Revolutionaries must coordinate internationally so that counter-revolution will not be the outcome of the present opportunism of the imperial powers.
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* Horace Campbell is a teacher and writer.
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