LIBYA: Africa frozen out of peace efforts?

With the world’s major powers increasingly meddling in Libya, the African Union (AU) has found itself sidelined from initiatives aimed at ending the almost decade-long conflict in the oil-rich state.

The latest sign of Africa’s loss of influence came as a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity took place in Istanbul, Moscow and Berlin to end a conflict that has raged since a popular uprising, backed by a Nato bombing campaign, led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011.

“African capitals complain, with good reason, that Libya has become a toy of various powers,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya analyst at the Netherland-based Institute for International Relations think-tank.

“The conflict is seen from a European, Persian Gulf and increasingly a Russian and Turkish vantage-point, ignoring the basic fact that Libya is an African country,” he added.

“We should not have allowed Western countries to attack Libya [in 2011]. We could have intervened, even militarily. Africa could have intervened and taught those people a lesson,” Mr Museveni said.

“If Africa wants to chase the invaders, we can chase them. We defeated the Portuguese, the Boers,” Mr Museveni said, referring to the Afrikaners who were in power in South Africa until 1994.

But analysts say that while Africa has been sidelined by Western powers, it also has itself to blame.

Mr Nguessa chairs an AU committee on Libya, which has held a series of meetings to resolve the crisis – the most recent of which was after the Berlin summit – but it has so far failed to achieve much.

Gaddafi was well respected in the AU, which he financed heavily. He campaigned for pan-African unity, and gained popular appeal by attacking “imperialists”.

The popular uprising against him sent shockwaves across Africa, and there was a strong racially-tinged backlash against black Africans in Libya who were accused of being “mercenaries” trying to prop up Gaddafi.

Tarek Megersi, a Libyan analyst with the UK-based European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said Mr Museveni’s comments reflect that that some African leaders have not yet come to terms with Gaddafi’s fall.

“During the 2011 revolution, the AU was seen as a Gaddafi supporter and there was a negative view of it among Libyans. People felt it was bought off by Gaddafi. So, comments like Mr Museveni’s cheapen Africa’s potential role as a neutral mediator,” he said.

Yet there was a need for greater African involvement to end the conflict because the continent has suffered economically since the fall of Gaddafi, and the unrest in Libya has had serious knock-on effects further south.

“One day, you had hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into Africa as investments by the Gaddafi regime. Then it dried up,” Mr Megersi pointed out.

“You also had remittances from migrants who came to work in Libya from countries such as Nigeria because salaries and the exchange rate were good. That also stopped.”

Mr Megersi said that worryingly, some African states had now become a recruiting ground for the belligerents in Libya.

Unrest in Libya spreads south

The unrest in Libya has been widely blamed for leading to a flow of both weapons and Islamist fighters across the Sahara desert to countries such as Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Mr Harchaou added that France had tried to get its former African colonies to endorse Gen Haftar, but has faced resistance from Chad’s President Idriss Déby, who commands a strong army and is a lynchpin in efforts to tackle militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group and al-Qaeda in West Africa and the Sahel, a semi-arid region on the fringes of the Sahara desert.

African lessons for Libya

Mr Mergesi said Africa’s influence within Libya was weakened by the fact that some of its leading powers – including South Africa – were seen to be allied with the remnants of the Gaddafi regime.

“There has always been a strong suspicion among Libyans that the man known as Gaddafi’s accountant knew where Libya’s assets and gold reserves were. He fled to South Africa, and liquidated the gold assets and funnelled the money to build a military force to come back to power in Libya,” Mr Mergesi said.

“African states also nationalised Libyan assets, like hotels, rather than handing them back to the Libyan Investment Authority,” he added.

This has tarnished the reputation of many African states in Libya, even though they could help play a vital role in ending the protracted conflict.

“Africa is not playing to its strengths in Libya. Countries like South Africa and Sierra Leone came out of conflict, and achieved reconciliation. They can offer valuable lessons to Libyans who have more in common with Africa than Europe,” Mr Mergesi said.

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