Thursday, September 1, 2011

The real reason why AU is not backing the NTC

*Unlike most Western governments, the AU is reluctant to recognize the NTC
*On the surface, the reason behind the move is AU's allegiance to Gaddafi, but the real reason is the misconception of the Libyan revolution as a foreign intervention
*Despite the hesitance, most African states will recognize the NTC soon

On August 26, the African Union (AU) decided to not recognize the National Transitional Council (NTC).  Given the general African reluctance to support the NTC from the beginning, the move is not a surprise.  Yet, observers beg for answers to the question why?  The future course of events seems irreversible, and the NTC will be the interim government, and its major leaders will later contest for elections and key posts.  Why then, is Africa being hesitant?  Why is it blinding itself from the so predictable future?

Geography, common colonialists, nor ethnic proximity explains why.  The 11 or so states (some reports claim 20) that have recognized the NTC are Botswana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tunisia, Senegal, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Benin, Kenya, and Djibouti.  The opposing 43 rest are equally randomly distributed. 

 States that recognize NTC, sparse and random

The most visible reason is the Gaddafi alliance. Gaddafi was, just like any other African head of state, a staunch supporter of Pan-Africanism.  Ideologically, he was on a planet of his own, calling for a Pan-African state, entitling himself the King of Kings of Africa, and urging “Libyan men to marry only black women, and Libyan women to marry only black men.”  Practically, however, he was a man of his words, generously funding the AU.  Naturally, he won friends and alliances with several African Presidents, whose political campaign rhetoric always included African unity, a concept cheap enough to talk about without taking any substantial action.

           This, however, is only a partial understanding.  Professor Mahmood Mamdani, best known for his book Good Muslim Bad Muslim, elucidates the African reason in his own words.  The fall of Gaddafi was different from that of Ben Ali and Mubarak because “external intervention” was heavily involved.  Without the meddlesome outsiders, Tripoli would have been intact, he argues.  Mamdani goes further, claiming that the recent boom of Chinese and Indian business influence in the continent is just like the decades old Western intervention in the form of financial and military aid.  Most importantly, the Libyan case sends a poor signal, where domestic political oppositions will look towards the West for their political ascension.  He claims that “dark days are ahead,” as the West involves the Security Council and the ICC to legitimize its involvement in the destruction of sovereignty and the rule of law.  As another example, he cites Ggabo of Cote d’Ivoire.  For Mamdani and the African leaders, the Libyan revolution is an illegal rebellion that happened with the help of the West.

           It is not surprising that Mamdani’s supremacy of national sovereignty over democratic values is widely accepted in Africa, where the democratic deficit is as heartbreaking as its economic catastrophes.  The Continent is rife with pseudo-democracies, with Presidents acting like softer versions of their authoritarian predecessors.  Two states outside of Africa that endorses the national-sovereignty-above-all philosophy are Russia and China, who have frustrated global cosmopolitans in blocking Security Council action in Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, and Iran during times of state instigated violence against its people.  Indeed, much like African leaders, Russia and China are insecure over certain pockets of population, and more importantly, insecure about opening up.  This insecurity leads to most obviously violence, but finger pointing the West as well.

           Mamdani and the African leaders view the Libyan revolution as a battle between national sovereignty and foreign intervention.  The more proper conception, however, is the dichotomy of authoritarianism versus democracy.  The key actor in the revolution was not NATO nor the Security Council, but the public as a collective unit.  Mamdani and co are under-calculating the significance of the NTC, the rebel fighters, and the citizen demonstrators who triggered the civil war.  They should properly note who wanted regime change in the first place and who decided to risk their lives to achieve it.

 This is democracy triumphing national sovereignty. Smiling now Gaddafi?

           The anti-West also fails to acknowledge is that democratic movement is triumphing national sovereignty, a new norm in international relations.  In times of mass democratic movement, a solidarity of public demonstrators, facebook and twitter users, international media, and foreign governing bodies forms.  The UN Security Council and the ICC, with their process of deliberation, intense debate, and global membership, add legitimacy to the cause.  Mamdani has pointed out these two institutions as another arm of the Western intervention, yet the ICC lacks the membership of the prime African villain, the United States, while encompassing a large number of African states.  The ICC may be bad for national sovereignty, but good for people of Sudan, Kenya, and now Libya.

Now, all this talk aside, what does the future hold?  No matter how much pro-Gaddafi sentiment lingers or how dubious the NTC seem to be, these nay-saying African states will eventually support the NTC, albeit in the form of a new Libyan government.  Embassies have to reopen, diplomats must serve government and business interests, and national leaders will have to face each other in Addis Ababa again.  Such is the nature of diplomacy, something that the current crop of African presidents, prime ministers, and (not necessarily mutually exclusive) dictators seems to have forgotten.  Expect the number of NTC embracers to rise.


kabcity said...

Interesting stuff. I wonder what kind of patterns of recognition are visible in similar previous cases (Kosovo and East Timor come to mind as recent new countries, which is a little different than new governments but I think in this case comparable) - did Western regimes recognize them first? I remember Russia refused to initially recognize Kosovo.

On a tangential node, this article ( made an interesting point that these citizen-revolutionaries clearly defy traditional behavioural understandings of utility maximization. This TED was interesting and amusing:

TK said...

haha good stuff.

1. On the case of Kosovo and E. Timor, we could imagine the politics behind recognition. Russia and Indonesia come up to mind. Given that NATO was heavily involved in the Balkan peninsula, I assume the West recognized Kosovo first. I just find the African refusal to Libya to be a whole lot less rational. Pan-Africanism endures, and the New Libya will not be the lone outsider of the cause. Given that, why reject something that you will embrace very very soon.

The TED talk was really inspiring. If that one vegetable seller in Tunisia wasn't so humiliated by the police on that particular day, who knows?

Sidetracking a bit, you mentioned that people are taking note that these events defy traditional behavioral understanding. If that is the case, I think the discourse has been thin. Mass civil disobedience has been ever present: Eastern Europe, S. Korea, and the Philippines in the 80s. One can perhaps say the American independence.