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Observers say Gaddafi 'owns' AU panel

Mandy Rossouw

The credibility of the fact-finding mission that the African Union will send to Libya has come under fire in South Africa.

The credibility of the fact-finding mission that the African Union will send to Libya has come under fire in South Africa because all the countries represented on the panel, apart from Uganda and South Africa itself, are financially reliant on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials say.

The AU appointed the panel, comprising the presidents of South Africa, Uganda, Mali, Mauritania and Congo, to visit Libya and meet relevant stakeholders in the conflict that has ravaged the oil-rich country since last month.

But government officials in South Africa say the relationship Gaddafi has with most of the panel suggests its findings are an almost foregone conclusion. In light of that, the officials question whether President Jacob Zuma should be on the panel.

“There are concerns here at home about this panel and whether South Africa should be part of it. It’s almost a given what they will say, given their relationship with that man [Gaddafi],” a senior government official told the Mail & Guardian.

The largest contributions to the AU’s budget, which this year is $258-million, come from South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya and Algeria, the countries with the highest gross domestic products. Every country is supposed to pay contributions to the AU, but because smaller countries struggle to do so they have in the past turned to Gaddafi for help, experts on the AU say.

Observers believe Gaddafi does this to ensure votes at the union, especially concerning the Libyan leader’s pet project—to create a “United States of Africa”. The AU has debated the matter but appears reluctant to make a decision on it.

SA’s efforts
Gaddafi is also known to have helped out smaller countries with direct funding, but the details of such arrangements are sketchy. If the panel takes a softly-softly approach on Gaddafi officials fear it will harm Zuma’s credibility because South Africa has gone to great lengths to shake off the perception that close relations between the two countries would make it sympathetic to him.

South Africa was slow to condemn the violence in Libya, but later tried to make good by giving full support to the United Nations resolution condemning the killings in the country.

These South African efforts came close to being undone when Gaddafi leaked information about a recent phone call between him and Zuma, claiming the South African president supported him. The presidency denied this.

Zuma travelled with other ANC and alliance leaders to Libya shortly before the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference to collect funds for his campaign. But ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe insisted last week that the ruling party had no historical relationship with Gaddafi.

Government officials are worried that should the panel return with a recommendation to the AU that favours Gaddafi, it will spoil the image Zuma wants to portray on the continent—that of himself as a statesman who believes in brokering peaceful solutions that do not merely serve its strongmen. The deputy minister of international relations, Marius Fransman, told reporters this week that it had not been finalised whether Zuma himself would travel to Libya.

“It will depend on the president’s schedule. The AU panel [will] analyse the situation on the ground and engage representatives of the authorities and representatives of the protesters,” he said. The purpose of the mission is not to mediate or intervene but to collect the facts on the ground, officials say.

Government insiders say Zuma may send Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe or International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to represent him on the mission.

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