Stay out of Africa, AU chair warns ‘foreign military’

Foreign military intervention — even when undertaken on humanitarian grounds — has caused too much suffering in Africa, the African Union’s chair said on Thursday, in a message seen as a jab at the Nato airstrikes in Libya.

Foreign military intervention — even when undertaken on humanitarian grounds — has caused too much suffering in Africa, the African Union’s chair said on Thursday, in a message seen as a jab at the Nato airstrikes in Libya.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who is also the president of Equatorial Guinea, also blamed outside “agents” for sparking pro-democracy demonstrations in countries across Africa including his own.

“The intervention for human rights are nowadays causing a massive scourge,” he said at the opening of the AU’s biannual summit being held in this capital, located on an island off the western coast of Africa. “The uncounted number of victims, among them women and children, displaced people and the destruction of economic infrastructure, does not justify such interventions. Instead of providing solutions to problems we are complicating and worsening world conflicts.”

Obiang did not specifically mention Libya, but the AU has come out forcefully against the bombardment that is threatening to topple Muammar Gaddafi, whose grip on power was thought to be absolute.

Absolute dismay
His fall would be discomforting for the other entrenched rulers in Africa, including Obiang, who has maintained total control of state institutions in Equatorial Guinea since his uncle was overthrown and killed in a coup 32 years ago.

Obiang’s country is considered among the most undemocratic in the world, one that has never had elections deemed free and fair, and where opponents to the regime are systematically tortured, according to Human Rights Watch and the report of the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Speaking about the popular uprisings in North Africa, Obiang said the youth are right to protest when their cause is “just and necessary,” but added that outside “agents” are in some cases attempting to manipulate public sentiment in order to cause unrest.

“I draw attention here to those agents accustomed to manipulating the innocence and the good faith of our youth and inexperienced population to unnecessarily cause sterile revolutions,” he said in Spanish, the national language of Equatorial Guinea. “This is the case of my country, Equatorial Guinea, which is victimised by a systematic campaign of misinformation by these agents.”

Breaking waves
The wave of popular protest that has swept across the northern part of the continent has so far not spread dramatically south, largely because leaders like Obiang have clamped down at the slightest sign of dissent.

In Malabo, reporters were told by the minister of information that state TV would not be discussing the events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya because they do not have correspondents in those countries who can ascertain if the information being reported by the international media is correct.

In Zimbabwe, where summit attendee Robert Mugabe has been in power for 31 years, even watching video footage of those uprisings can lead to treason charges punishable by death.

And in Cameroon, where 77-year-old President Paul Biya has ruled since 1982, the government ordered cellphone companies to suspend mobile services for Twitter after citizens used the site to organise a “Drive Out Biya” march.

Traditionally the AU has chosen to support its leaders at the expense of the people they govern, but the recent conflict in Côte d’Ivoire may have marked a turning point.

Changing horses mid-race
An AU panel charged with finding a solution to the conflict initially backed Laurent Gbagbo, the country’s outgoing president, who lost last year’s presidential election and took his country to the brink of civil war in an effort to stay in office.

Under immense international pressure, however, the panel, which included Obiang, eventually called for Gbagbo to step down.

The same evolution may be in the works on Libya. The ad hoc committee charged with dealing with the crisis has issued many statements supporting Gaddafi and advocating talks between the Libyan leader and the rebels attempting to overthrow him.

Such proposals were rejected outright by the rebels and the international community, which views Gaddafi as the problem and not a part of the solution.

On Sunday, the committee reversed course, however, saying they welcomed Gaddafi’s decision to not be part of the negotiation process.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the committee said it had met in Malabo and agreed on a set of proposals to help Libya emerge from the crisis. It said the proposals would be submitted to the AU assembly for its support.

“I believe there is certainly a change in the whole perception of Gaddafi. We are in a very different position to the one we were in just five, six weeks ago,” said Britain’s Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, who attended the first part of the conference.

He said he had met with many of the foreign ministers of the 53 member nations attending the conference, and found that even those that were previously reluctant to call for Gaddafi’s ouster are now privately agreeing that he should go. — Sapa-AP

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