In a recent media interview, US President Barack Obama apologetically admitted that Libya was his administration’s “worst mistake.” Breaking with convention, the US President also implicitly blamed British Prime Minister David Cameron and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the current mess in Libya. In remarkable hindsight, President Obama pointed out that the two European leaders had failed to plan for the aftermath of the war and did not follow-through with rebuilding the country. He noted that, following the overthrowing and killing of former dictator Muammar Gadhafi, and stirring up the Libyan bee’s hive, Cameron became ‘distracted’ and Sarkozy soon ‘lost interest’.
The irony is that African Union negotiators and political analysts had long warned of just such a catastrophe in Libya, but no one ‘who mattered’ was willing to listen. “Those who wear the shoe know where it is pinching,” says a former ambassador based in Libya. “We know and understand Africa and we say, please, the issue is here, in this shoe. But the big powers always know better and they rush in and often chop off the other foot!”
Though belatedly, at least one leader has now had to courage to admit that precipitate action based on wish-fulfillment, or on ‘what is expected’ rather than ‘what is needed’, can lead to consequences that are disastrous. Consequences that continue to reverberate long after air-force jets have ‘accomplished their mission’ and flown home safely.
One such consequence is now arriving every day as a human tide on Europe’s shores. As the mounting mass of suffering humanity knocks feebly on their doors, Europe and the United States are left wondering how best to respond to a crisis of their own making. Ironically, in prescient remarks made in March 2011, Gadhafi had warned that without a united and stable Libya the “Mediterranean will turn into a sea of chaos”, and that Europe would be flooded with immigrants from Africa.
Another ramification of the breakdown in any semblance to law and order in Libya is its impact on regional countries and around the Middle-East. Remnants of the former Libyan army, which had a significant number of conscripts from neighboring African countries, along with the huge tranche of arms and ammunition from the Libyan arsenal, are now flowing beyond the country’s borders, destabilizing neighbors and fueling insurgencies far and wide.
Yet one more effect from the Libyan fiasco is that besides being embroiled in a highly vicious and fractionalized civil war, the country has now became a safe and fertile ground for terrorists of various hues. Since the war in Libya, extremism thriving in the country has swept like a scythe slicing up countries, institutions and communities in the region and beyond.
Several African leaders had predicted these consequences and expressed their concerns, but Western leaders smug in the superiority of their military capability, chose to ignore these warnings. The inane decisions and rash responses made by leaders far removed from the continent have left ruined homes, lost lives and shattered economies in its wake; but that is just ‘collateral damage’.
Africa has always been seen as a resource; at the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, the then colonial European powers carved up Africa to project their power and to divide its spoils between them. However, even much before that, the continent was seen as little more than a supply source of people and goods, to be exploited and discarded at will.
But Africa is now saying, “Enough”; some of Africa’s most perceptive leaders are now saying, “No Longer.” This call was once again loudly echoed at the recent Fifth Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa, which was held in the Ethiopian town of Bahir Dar on 16 and 17 April.
The Forum, under the theme ‘Africa in the Global Security Agenda’, witnessed a host of high-profile speakers, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and the former presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Pierre Buyoya of Burundi and General Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.
Reiterating the need for a better and fairer representation for Africa on the international stage, the leaders called for Africa’s voice to be acknowledged and respected, especially when it came to matters related to the continent. They noted that though African nations form the largest regional grouping in the United Nations, at the policy level, especially at the critical agenda-setting level, Africa has always been politely shunted aside. The Forum called for a change to the existing situation so that local knowledge and accumulated African wisdom could be used to solve the continent’s problems. They noted that when it came to conflict resolution and peace-building, Africa had a wealth of expertise and experience that it could use locally and share with the rest of the world.
Incidentally, the symbol of the Forum was the baobab tree — a traditional meeting place in Africa where tribes used to gather to discuss conflicts, to analyze situations and, more often than not, find solutions to their problems.
The symbol also reiterates and reminds one, of the African proverb: “Wisdom is like a baobab tree, no one can embrace it”. It takes many people to sit down in a spirit of honesty, discuss candidly and find solutions acceptable to all.
If President Obama is serious about looking at a different milieu in his approach to world problems, then perhaps he should look at the traditional African formula of sitting under the baobab tree and finding solutions based on collective wisdom.