Global Policy Forum

Moammar Gadhafi and the African Union's


By Christopher Lord

Power and Interest News Report
17 March, 2004

The international military cooperation that was always intended to be a cornerstone of the United Nations system has had some successes, but also many failures, with Iraq the latest of these. Among United Nations staff, however, there has always been an understanding that it is Africa, and not the Middle East, that most deserves the attention of the world body. But effective military cooperation for peacekeeping in Africa is hard to organize. At a two-day summit on February 27-28, the African Union (A.U.) announced the creation of new military structures for this very purpose.

The French have often intervened unilaterally in their former African colonies, as have the British -- most recently in Sierra Leone in 2000. A separate class of military interventions was "proxy war": the use of African battlegrounds for military confrontations between clients of the Cold War adversaries, with arms, troops, military training or money supplied by the superpowers. With the death in combat in February 2002 of Jonas Savimbi, the leader of UNITA, the Angolan faction supported for decades by the United States and apartheid South Africa against the nominally Marxist MPLA government party, that phase of conflict came to an end.

Another Cold War legacy was the generation of African leaders who used the backing of the United States or the Soviet Union as a means of cementing their personal power. The most deadly conflict since the Second World War, with more than three million dead, has been that in the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.), and it was the fall of the C.I.A.-backed President of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, that sparked the fighting there. The war in the D.R.C. has been complicated by ethnic factors and by the struggle for control of mineral resources. Eleven other African countries have seen fit to send troops, and in reality the motive has often been to seize or protect a mining area.

An unusual aspect of military conflict in Africa is that countries hardly ever go to war against each other (with a few exceptions, such as the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict). Nearly all the conflicts take place inside countries, and if there is involvement from neighboring states, it is likely to be in the form of covert cross-border raids and illicit funding of armed groups, rather than the actual deployment of national armed forces. And of course the bloodiest conflicts have not involved regular troops at all, but unofficial armed factions of various kinds. Against this background, everyone is in favor of so-called "African Solutions for African Problems," meaning in this context an independent African peacekeeping capability designed to address problems such as these. But there have been few countries ready to supply troops.

Nigeria's interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s were carried out under a military government, and the democratic system now operating there would not allow such an experiment to be repeated today. South Africa, often seen as a potential source of peacekeeping troops, has been reluctant to get drawn into this role, an important reason being the chaos still prevailing among its own armed forces after apartheid-era officers were replaced with African National Congress cadres. Other countries are prepared to supply troops to U.N. operations, but not to initiate peace operations themselves.

This leaves the African Union. The Organization of African Unity (O.A.U.), a venerable, mostly respectable and mainly inert body that has existed since 1963, was renamed as the A.U. in July 2002 as part of the biggest shake-up in its history. The plans for the A.U. are ambitious: a Pan-African Parliament, an African Court of Justice, and a high level of military cooperation through a Peace and Security Council modeled after the U.N. Security Council.

All this is very different from the O.A.U., which saw non-interference in the affairs of its member states as a cardinal principle, but, at least on paper, there has been rapid progress with developing the A.U. Nevertheless, there will be no African army. What has been agreed to so far is a much more modest scheme to create five "standby brigades," one for each region. It is a low-risk and low-cost policy, since these are troops already belonging to national armies, who will simply now be earmarked for possible future peacekeeping duties.

The great question mark hanging over all these developments is that they have mainly been pushed forward like this by Libya.

Although there are other African countries with significant resources, hardly any of them see international cooperation as a policy priority, especially when it comes to paying for it. So Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's decision to reinvent himself as an African leader, and Libya as a leading African power, has met little direct resistance or competition inside Africa. However, his attempts to redefine Africa itself as a unified super-state, presumably Libyan-led, have not prospered.

Politically secure at home, and with money still being pumped abundantly out of the ground from the world's third largest oil reserves, he has been able to buy political support at the A.U. from poor African countries without much apparent effort, but even so, the A.U. summit in Addis Ababa in February 2003 threw out the more extreme Libyan proposals, and what has just been agreed to at Sirte is also much less radical than what Gadhafi has been proposing.

He has suggested putting Libya at the center of the whole new structure, with the proposed African parliament, for instance, to be located there, and he has been pressing for all African armies to be merged and placed under centralized A.U. command –- ready for an eventual President of Africa to lead. But the other A.U. member states, guessing that Gadhafi sees himself in this role, seem to be intent on a policy of passive resistance.

It was Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the inaugural president of the African Union, who led the counterattack, though it was a backroom affair, consisting mainly of creating an anti-Gadhafi block inside the new political structures, and using it to push the pro-Libyan people and policies quietly aside. It seems, in fact, that Gadhafi's grand scheme will fail. After all, is Libya really an African country in the first place, let alone one deserving of becoming the pre-eminent African state and seat of its continental institutions? But the question is, will this spell failure for the rest of the A.U. project, too?

There is still a political vacuum that needs to be filled at a pan-African level. The Russians have withdrawn. The United States, as a result, has seen no point in maintaining its own presence, and only private American oil and mining companies remain. The French have realized that African military adventures are simply too expensive, and have limited themselves to participation in small international operations, like the peacekeeping operation in Cí´te d'Ivoire that is currently under way. But Africa's huge raw materials wealth is still there, and there are still customers eager for oil, gold, diamonds and other treasure. The unique advantage Gadhafi enjoys is that he is not primarily interested in getting his hands on this wealth. This has allowed him to stand above the factional politics demonstrated in the D.R.C., where African leaders have been more interested in making sure they get a share of the booty than in stopping the bloodshed. Nonetheless, there are some other issues.

David Crane, the American chief prosecutor of the new U.N. war crimes court in Sierra Leone, told the BBC on March 9 that "There was a 10-year plan to take down Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cí´te d'Ivoire, then move to Guinea and then elsewhere as the situation developed. … The 10-year plan was to put in surrogates who were beholden to Moammar Gadhafi." If this were the real nature of Gadhafi's total plan -- to destroy a series of African states through armed subversion and then to create an African army, largely under his own control, to resolve the conflicts that result, all in the name of African unity -- then it is not surprising that African leaders should have hesitated before signing up to his well-funded, political project. Thabo Mbeki's scheme seems to have been to salvage what useful structures could be saved, rather than shooting down the whole project.

The danger is that this will prevent the A.U. from developing beyond the limitations of the old O.A.U. "dictators' club." A military structure is certainly a key element, and success in this area would transform international cooperation in Africa almost beyond recognition. The African Union launched a peacekeeping mission in Burundi with some fanfare soon after its foundation, but rather than this being the first of many successes, there is now talk of putting this stagnating mission under U.N. control, as is also to happen to the French-led Cí´te d'Ivoire operation. The A.U. is already 40 million dollars in the red thanks to non-payment of dues, and whether the new institutions will ever function properly must at this point remain open to question. If the price of military effectiveness is having Gadhafi in charge, it is evidently one that Africa collectively is not prepared to pay.

More Information on Nations & States
More Information on Political Integration and National Sovereignty


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.