Will Africa manage to speak with a single voice on the Libya crisis?

By Mathieu Olivier

Posted on Friday, 7 February 2020 16:30
Change of power between Paul Kagame and Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, at the podium of the 32nd African Union summit on 10 February 2019 in Addis Ababa. © RR / Rwandan Presidency

Security issues are expected to dominate the discussion at the 33rd African Union Summit, which will be held on 9 and 10 February in Addis Ababa. The African Union (AU) hopes to finally find a concerted solution to the Libyan crisis.

“Egypt is going to take care of the problem.”

Almost exactly one year ago today, when the AU was actively preparing its 32nd summit, African leaders were feeling confident as they sat in the rows of the Addis Ababa conference centre.

Fast forward to 12 months later, the Libyan crisis has further deteriorated and promises to be, once again, the central topic of the upcoming summit, which is set to bring together the continent’s heads of state on 9 and 10 February.

READ “There is no military solution to the conflict in Libya” – UN Sec-Gen António Guterres

The situation represents a significant failure for Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is reaching the end of his term as chair of the continental organisation.

Steadfast in his support of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, al-Sisi has not succeeded in making Africa’s voice heard in the conflict, with Russia and Turkey recently positioning themselves as the most significant players in the crisis, as the UN and France loosen their grip.

Being on the lookout for “ulterior motives”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who will officially become the AU’s chair during the summit, knows all too well that Libya is the main challenge facing the organisation. A summit took place in Brazzaville on 30 January and talks will continue in Addis Ababa.

Ramaphosa has already set the tone for his chairpersonship: Africa should cooperate with major powers, but be wary of them all the same. “In some cases, [outside] interventions seem to be influenced by ulterior motives,” he said.

In Brazzaville, where Ramaphosa was represented by his Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor and Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh – who chairs the AU’s Peace and Security Council –was in attendance, the participants reaffirmed Africa’s position as being driven by the holding of an inter-Libyan national reconciliation forum. Last November, Chad’s Idriss Déby Itno offered to host the talks in N’Djamena.

According to our information, the AU also hopes to obtain the designation of a joint mediator representing the union and the UN in the Libyan crisis. The name of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Mauritania’s former president, was floated to the UN, but the UN Security Council refused to back the suggestion, which was not at all to the liking of several African heads of state.

Silencing the guns

According to a diplomat from the Sahel, “Ramaphosa’s main challenge is to increase confidence in an African solution by rallying the support of neighbouring countries, especially North African ones, in order to have more influence over the situation up against major Western [France, the United States] and Eastern [Turkey, Russia] powers. The ministers of foreign affairs of Libya’s neighbours, along with their Malian counterpart, met in Algiers on 23 January.”

On 8 February, the AU summit’s ministers of foreign affairs meeting will close with the gathering of the Peace and Security Council to discuss the Libyan and Sahel crises, in the presence of Algerian diplomat Smaїl Chergui. The director of the Peace and Security Department (PSD) of the African Union Commission, highly criticised within the organisation, will likely take part in the meeting.

In Brazzaville, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, remarked that “Libyans [should] take their responsibility before history to silence the guns.”

The Chadian politician knows how to turn a phrase: “Silencing the Guns” is actually the central theme of the AU summit, which will bring together the continent’s heads of state on 9 and 10 February.

It is up to Faki Mahamat, who has another year left in his term (unless it ends up being renewed in 2021) to work with the South African chair so that, at long last, they can “take care of the problem.”

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