Libya: AU to hold reconciliation meeting

By The Africa Report

Posted on Wednesday, 22 February 2023 18:00
Libyans gather at the Martyrs' Square in Libya's capital Tripoli on February 17, 2023, as they commemorate the 12th anniversary of the uprising that toppled longtime strongman Muammar Kadhafi. (Photo by Mahmud Turkia / AFP)

The African Union (AU) is planning to host a “reconciliation conference” for Libya soon, according to AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, one of the latest efforts to resolve the country’s long-running instability.

During the closing ceremony of this year’s AU summit on 19 February, Faki said heads of state had discussed the organisation of the Libya conference. Afterwards, he told reporters that preparatory meetings had already been held in Tripoli, Libya’s capital.

“We have met with the different parties, and we are in the process of working with them on a date and place for the national conference,” said Faki.

He added that the reconciliation conference will be chaired by the Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has long been the AU’s point man for Libya as the head of its high-level committee on the country.

Long-time coming

Originally planned to take place in Addis Ababa in 2021, after Libya’s warring parties signed a ceasefire in October 2020, the conference has been long-delayed.

Libya has been gripped by factionalism and deadly violence after its former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, was overthrown in a NATO-backed rebellion in 2011. The resulting civil war has seen the involvement of regional powers including Turkey, Egypt, Sudan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

The ceasefire, brokered by the United Nations, has halted hostilities in the country. It was struck in Geneva following the first Berlin Conference of January 2020, which called for a transitional period paving the way for “parliamentary and presidential elections”.

These were scheduled for 24 December 2021 under a road map agreed upon in Tunisia. But the vote was cancelled after the parties were unable to agree on the structure of the vote. Major disagreements centred on the eligibility of certain candidates and the adequacy of the country’s electoral law.

Elections are path to unification

On Friday, ahead of the AU heads of State summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasised that elections remain “the only credible pathway to legitimate and unified governance” in Libya.

“I understand — and I share — the growing frustrations of the Libyan people,” Guterres said. “The absence of elections worsens economic insecurity, heightens political instability, risks renewed conflict and raises the spectre of partition.”

Guterres also called for the “complete withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from Libya.” In 2021 the UN estimated there were over 20,000 foreigners fighting in the country, both military and paramilitary.

Path to dialogue

While in Addis Ababa last week, Guterres met with Congo’s President Sassou to discuss the implementation of a “national reconciliation and dialogue process,” according to Bankole Adeoye, the AU’s Peace and Security Commissioner.

Adeoye described the reconciliation process as a “pathway towards holding free, fair elections” and said “it will be a rallying point for all stakeholders in Libya, political actors, to come together, to promote and continue to pursue” ceasefire agreement.

However, some analysts question whether the AU’s plans for a reconciliation conference could undermine the ongoing efforts of the UN’s special envoy to Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily.

“What the UN special envoy is trying to accomplish right now is elections,” says Jalel Harchaoui from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). “Elections are a process by which the current leaders leave the stage….but when you talk about reconciliation, it means you are basically giving legitimacy to the existing leaders, you are encouraging them to speak to each other, which means they are staying.”

Harchaoui questions whether the AU is fully coordinating its reconciliation efforts with the UN’s push for elections. “The AU exercise is going to look very noble and magnanimous, but it’s going to achieve absolutely nothing that Libya needs right now,” he says.

The AU has long sought to have a seat at the table during discussions about Libya, especially as it seeks to promote the mantra “African solutions to Africa problems” in the spheres of peace and security.

Nguesso’s role in Libya talks

In 2017 President Nguesso brought warring factions together in Brazzaville for talks at the height of the fighting. But in recent years the AU has found itself increasingly side-lined from efforts to break Libya’s political deadlock, with individual regional actors exerting far more influence on the parties.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni referenced this in 2020 when he claimed Nguesso was invited “last minute” to that year’s Berlin Conference by Angela Merkel as “tokenism to show that Africa was also involved”.

Harchaoui from RUSI says the AU lacks the “power” and “networks” to have a real impact in Libya. “The AU, as a collection of African states, can speak about Libya all day long, it has very little effect on what happens in Libya,” he says. “Turkey, Egypt, Saudi, Russia and the US – those are the states who could actually change the behaviour (of the Libyan parties).”

He adds: “The Libyan crisis is not determined by African actors. It’s out of their hands, whether they like it or not.”

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