Tripoli falls, but SA still reluctant to recognise rebels

While more than 30 countries have recognised Libya’s Transitional National Council, South Africa refuses to accept its legitimacy, and has even criticised Nigeria for doing so.

One of the continent’s most economically powerful countries, South Africa has long preferred to avoid direct pronouncements on the internal affairs of other countries, preferring to engage in “quiet diplomacy” and multilateral engagement instead of using its regional status and power to force action.

Following a revolt in Libya’s capital on Saturday evening that saw civilians rise up against Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan rebels have stormed Tripoli—seizing control of the dictator’s last stronghold in a largely bloodless assault on the capital.

With Libya’s capital Tripoli falling to the rebels this week, and Muammar Gaddafi in hiding, many nations have offered support to the new council as the legitimate authority in Libya after 42 years of autocratic rule.

But South Africa says it is waiting for the outcome of the high-level African Union meeting that President Jacob Zuma will attend on Thursday before commenting further on any formal recognition of the TNC.

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said on Tuesday that South Africa did not want “a state within a state”.

If Gaddafi’s government fell “there would be no government in Libya”, she added.

Then, on Tuesday, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe expressed his displeasure with Nigeria’s move to acknowledge the TNC.

“Nigeria is jumping the gun in recognising the rebels. They must wait and see what happens next.”

Recognition by the West
South Africa’s stance is in stark contrast to that of the West.

The European Union and Egypt have already expressed their recognition of the TNC, and on Tuesday British Prime Minster David Cameron said Gaddafi’s frozen assets ought to be released to support the council.

The United States recognised the rebel council as early as July.

US Embassy spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau told the Mail and Guardian: “As the free people of Libya seek to rebuild their country after 42 years of one-man rule, they will need friends and support across the continent and around the world.”

Despite its reluctance to recognise the TNC, South Africa has nevertheless offered to help Libya draft its new constitution.

African Solutions to African Problems
International relations experts were not surprised by South Africa’s stance on Libya and explained that the country was standing with the AU.

“South Africa has been spearheading the African Union road map on Libya”, said Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher Ottilia Maunganidze.

But the African Union’s approach to dealing with the crisis in Libya and its road map for peace have also come under criticism.

The AU had dealt with the conflict in Libya “incompetently” said the head of Unisa’s department of African Renaissance Studies, Professor Shadrack Gutto.

Zuma presented the road map to Gaddafi in April but failed to convince the rebel-led opposition. And during his second visit to Libya, he controversially referred to Gaddafi as “Brother Leader”.

Rebels “scorned” Zuma in April, said Gutto, calling the AU road map for peace “wishful thinking” and saying it was not credible, as the document merely suggested a dialogue.

Maunganidze said that although the road map was thought up in March, little progress had been made by the AU with regards to resolving conflict in Libya.

She also said that the AU’s road map didn’t take the International Criminal Court arrest warrants seriously, and gave Gaddafi leeway in terms of remaining in Libya.

On June 27, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gaddafi, meaning all signatories to the Rome Statute would have to hand over Gaddafi if he landed on their shores.

South Africa is a signatory to the ICC’s Rome Statute, and could not legally offer Gaddafi asylum. But Maunganidze felt the AU had been ambivalent in this regard and allowed Gaddafi to remain in Libya.

In what has appears a contradiction or back-pedalling from an initial decision to support Nato’s entry into Libya, Zuma has criticised Nato’s support of the rebels in Libya.

He said powerful nations had abused United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 “to further interests other than to protect civilians and assist the Libyan people”.

Maunganidze said South Africa had voted in favour of UN 1973 resolution to support Nato’s intervention. She said the country should have known that Nato would use” military might as it is a military arm” and done more than protect civilians.

Despite criticism that the AU had been ineffective in ending Libya’s conflict, Zuma said that the African continent should have been at the forefront of efforts to resolve the crisis.

“The situation in Libya has been of concern as it has been accompanied by the undermining of the African continent’s role in finding a solution ... We could have avoided a lot of loss of life in Libya,” he said on Tuesday.

‘Not representative’
ISS researcher Issaka Soaure agreed with South Africa’s criticism of Nato’s support of the opposition to Gaddafi. Souare said Nato’s decision to support the rebels would lead to problems in the future as the TNC was not representative of all Libyans in the country.

Soaure said the council had members of Gaddafi’s regime and only represented rebels form the eastern side of Libya.

But the TNC’s representative in South Africa, Abdalla Alzubedi told the M&G members on the council were from all parts of Libya and that even Gaddafi officials were “welcome” in government “unless they had blood on their hands from the last 42 years”, he said. “Then they must be tried for their crimes.”

Alzubedi said that Libya was seeing the end of 42 years of dictatorship and “all Libyans were rejoicing in a new era of democracy and human rights”.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade cling to power appears to be in increasing jeopardy as anti-government protesters grow more impatient. For more news click here.

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