African Union, Recipient of Gaddafi Funds, Silent on Libya Bloodshed

February 23, 2011 - 6:33 AM

AU summit, African Union

African leaders including President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi gather along with guest Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas at an African Union summit in Kampala, Uganda on Sunday, July 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)

(Update: The African Union's Peace and Security Council held a meeting Wednesday to discuss the situation in Libya, and A.U. Commission chairman Jean Ping issued a statement later condemning “the disproportionate use of force” against civilians and calling for “an immediate end of the repression and violence.”)

( – The African Union has been conspicuously absent from the growing chorus of international condemnation of Libya's violent suppression of anti-government protests. That silence reflects the assertive role Muammar Gaddafi has played in the bloc of African nations.

Even the Arab League and Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have joined criticism of the Libyan crackdown – despite having in their ranks some of the world’s most repressive regimes. (Of 17 countries judged “worst of the worst” by Freedom House in 2010, nine are members of the OIC, Arab League or both.)

The Arab League on Tuesday suspended Libya temporarily, while the OIC said in a statement that it “considers the ongoing coercion and oppression in Libya as a humanitarian catastrophe which goes against Islamic and human values.”

The 53-nation A.U., however, has yet to speak up.

The A.U. can, and does, suspend member states for conduct deemed unacceptable. During the course of last year it suspended Niger after a military coup in February, and Cote d’Ivoire following the disputed November election and Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to relinquish the presidency.

The A.U.’s founding document, the Constitutive Act of July 2000, provides for suspension of any government that “shall come to power through unconstitutional means.”

(In theory, that provision should have prompted the suspension of numerous governments, including those of Libya, Tunisia, Sudan, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic and Burkina Faso, but implementation was not retroactive.)

The Constitutive Act, however, also enshrines the right of the bloc to intervene in a member state “in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.” To do so requires a decision of the A.U. heads of state and government.

The A.U. did express concern early this month about the violence in Egypt, in a brief statement from A.U. Commission chairman Jean Ping.

But neither Ping nor the A.U.’s “Peace and Security Council” have spoken publicly on the situation in Libya, where the loss of life has been considerably greater. (Libya was elected onto the Peace and Security Council for a three-year period beginning April 2010.)

Queries sent to A.U. peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra, and the director of the Peace and Security Council, El Ghassim Wane, received no response by press time.

‘Buying friends with petrodollars’

“Behind the scenes, the A.U. will be thrown into crisis by Gaddafi’s actions,” Kathryn Sturman of the South African Institute of International Affairs said in a briefing Tuesday.

The attacks on civilians should prompt the Peace and Security Council to “suspend Libya and exercise its responsibility to protect civilians,” she said, but noted that Libya is one of the A.U.’s five main financial sponsors.

“Gaddafi has a wide patronage network in Africa and has used petrodollars to buy friends,” added Sturman, who heads the institute’s Governance of Africa’s Resources Program in Cape Town.


Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi arrives at an African Union special session in Tripoli on Monday, Aug. 31, 2009. (AP Photo)

Gaddafi was a key mover behind the creation of the A.U. to replace the looser Organization for African Unity in 2001, and sought to use the oil wealth and influence of his “Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” to push his vision of a “United States of Africa” – with him as leader.

In 2005 Gaddafi hosted an A.U. leaders’ summit in Sirte where it was decided that Libya and four other countries – Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa – would be responsible for 75 percent of the A.U.’s operating budget.

Four years later, A.U. leaders meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia elected Gaddafi to the rotating chairmanship of the bloc. The Libyan strongman underlined his own aspirations by bringing with him to the meeting a group of African traditional leaders who hailed him as Africa’s “king of kings.” (The same term was used to welcome Gaddafi on his first visit to the United Nations, later that year.)

Gaddafi used his chairmanship during 2009 to promote his campaign for full political and economic integration, a single currency and passport for all of Africa, and a single African military force.

Despite reluctance from African leaders across the political spectrum to consider steps that would diminish national sovereignty, many were content to put up with Gaddafi’s eccentricities while benefiting from his willingness to contribute a disproportionate share of the operating budget.

Some leaders also benefited more directly. In one of the classified U.S. State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, a U.S. Embassy reported on a brief trip by Gaddafi (rendered “Qadhafi” in the cable) to the small West African country of Guinea, a fortnight after a military officer named Moussa Dadis Camara had seized power in a Dec. 2008 coup.

“Both press and independent sources reported that Qadhafi gave a bullet-proof Nissan vehicle to President Camara,” the cable said. “A sensitive source told Embassy that Qadhafi also gave the president a large sum of cash.”

Some African countries resisted Gaddafi’s approach, as evident in another leaked State Department cable, describing a 2007 meeting between a U.S. official and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

“Museveni turned to his opposition to the formation of an ‘African Government.’ He said that Libya pushed hard for support for it at the [2007 A.U.] summit, but that Uganda led the charge against it. Museveni believes economic integration would be possible, but political integration would be difficult as each country has different foreign and internal policies and national identities,” the cable said.

“Museveni went further to express concern about Libya’s intentions and methods of influencing weak West African states,” it continued. “Museveni said Qadhafi is trying to buy them off or intimidate them by destabilizing their countries unless they agree with union.”