African Union Takes Issue With US Role In Libya

The International Criminal Court is issuing an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who's still holding onto power despite anti-government protests and NATO's bombing campaign that surpasses 100 days. African nations are among the strongest critics of the NATO campaign and its US support. Guest host Tony Cox finds out why from Mwangi Kimenyi, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

TONY COX, host: I'm Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

New census data show that for the first time in history, minorities make up a majority of babies in the United States. We'll explore how that change could reshape American society. That's coming up in a bit.

But first, the International Criminal Court today issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and others in his regime for crimes against humanity. The move comes as the NATO bombing campaign surpasses the 100-day mark. As Gadhafi clings to power, President Barack Obama is coming under pressure at home to limit American involvement in the conflict.

In votes on Friday, the House of Representatives rejected a one-year authorization for the president to use force in Libya, though the body declined to eliminate funding for U.S. support of the NATO mission.

In the international community, African nations are among the strongest critics of the NATO campaign and its American support. Here to talk more about that is Mwangi Kimenyi. He is the director of the African Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. Welcome.

MWANGI KIMENYI: Thank you very much.

COX: Let's begin with this. Talk about the war crimes indictments from the International Criminal Courts. Today in The Hague, Gadhafi, along with one of his sons and his chief of intelligence stand accused of killing, injuring and imprisoning thousands of Libyans during a period in the early days of the unrest. What are your thoughts about how the indictments will be viewed among other African nations as well as inside Libya?

KIMENYI: I think from the African perspective, the International Criminal Courts has been viewed as a bias against the Africans and African leaders. So what we've seen is yet another attempt to forecast on Africa. However, to be realistic, it is through that - as Africans, the African organizations themselves seems to have failed to deal with these type of issues.

COX: Let's talk about this for a moment because it's been complex. The role that the African Union has played with regard to the developments in Libya particularly, how would you describe what the A.U.'s role has been and how effective do you think it has been?

KIMENYI: The A.U. has been, to me, very disappointing. And even knowing that these crimes has been taking place and even knowing that Gadhafi has been oppressing the people, the African Union has not been clear on the position in terms of opposing Gadhafi. So in this sense...

COX: Why is that?

KIMENYI: I think my view is that, well, first of all, as I have noted in some previous write-ups is that Gadhafi was the chairman of African Union just two years back. He was the president of A.U. He is supposed to have helped a lot in the transition from the Organization of African Unity to the African Union. And there are a lot of leaders in Africa who feels that same situation in terms of not upholding democratic principles.

The current chairman of the African Union is the president of Equatorial Guinea. His democratic record is awful. So I don't expect these leaders to actually support a position that is - you know, that would be against Gadhafi.

COX: So in that regard, how can an organization like the A.U. be taken, internationally speaking, as a legitimate, relevant body, when it stands, in a sense, on the sidelines while someone like Gadhafi is attacking his own people?

KIMENYI: Unfortunately, I think the A.U. has lost credibility in the idea of peace and dealing with the democratic issues. It has been very effective in some other areas. For example, in the areas of regional integration. I think the African Union has done very well. But it is still a weak institution. And I think we need to see reforms that makes the African Union more effective. But the status now - it's a failure.

COX: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox.

And we are talking about the African Union's response to the crisis in Libya. Our guest is Mwangi Kimenyi, who is the director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

So, we've already established through your point of view that the A.U. has been ineffective with regard to its response to Gadhafi. And yet at the same time, the A.U. is in opposition, publicly, to the position that the United States has taken and NATO with regard to bombing. So if they're not going to do it, then why are they are opposed to someone else doing it?

KIMENYI: OK. So the African Union's position is that we want Africa to solve its problems. But yet, in this case, you don't see the African Union taking a position that would solve these problems. They have called for and negotiated settlements. But there are cases where you need to intervene. In fact, there are cases where you must use force. The African Union does not have the muscle, is not willing or able to do that.

COX: Hasn't Moammar Gadhafi already indicated his rejection of a negotiated settlement by turning down the offer of Jacob Zuma to come in exile and live in South Africa. He said no.

KIMENYI: I think what is happening now is that he's being pushed into a corner, where going to the table will be not that he wants it, but he has no choice. He doesn't have a lot of choices. I think the pressure is building. There is a lot of internal problems that will force him to actually seek a negotiated settlement, where either he leaves the country or somehow he's given some form of internal amnesty. But it's not going to last.

COX: The African Union and its predecessor organization have dealt with dictators in the past. But I wondered, in your view, do you think that this situation with Moammar Gadhafi is so critical that what happened could determine the very future of an organization such as the A.U.?

KIMENYI: I think it's going to impact the way the A.U. operates. We see the direct - the Organization of African Unity, which used to be called a club of dictators, you may recall that people like Idi Amin were at one time chairman.

COX: Did you say a club of dictators? That's what it used to be?

KIMENYI: Yes. The Organization of African Unity was referred to as a club of dictators. You had people like Idi Amin being chairs of that body.

COX: Yeah. So, but you still - A.U. has the same problem.

KIMENYI: That's the problem. I think we have reverted back. On paper, A.U. is very different from OAU. It's supposed to uphold democratic principles. But it has gravitated to the same level of OAU in terms of governance.

COX: I want to switch the topic just a little bit, because last week there was a great deal of news about the visit of First Lady Michelle Obama to South Africa and to other parts of that continent. We know that what we saw publicly was primarily apolitical, but there's always underlying political machinations going on when you have someone that close to the White House visiting. What's your observation about the significance - if there was any - to her visit?

KIMENYI: I think it's significant. First of all, she visited countries that I've considered relatively democratic, country like South Africa, you know, countries like Botswana. You know, since the South Africa part, they are seen as the democratic countries. But although this was a significant visit, I would say that the visit by the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, when she attended the meetings - (unintelligible) meetings recently, I was visiting several other countries - was most significant.

But in terms of from the view of Africans, we would like to see President Obama come up with a more focused policy on Africa, which has not happened just yet.

COX: I have time for one really short question, which may require a longer answer than we have time for. Would you say, though, that President Obama has been a better friend and partner to Africa than George Bush?

KIMENYI: Unfortunately, President George Bush did quite a lot on some areas. And I would like to give him credit. I would say President Obama has a good heart for Africa. He has not put it into action.

COX: Mwangi Kimenyi is director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He was kind enough to join us here in our Washington studio. Thank you very much.

KIMENYI: Thank you.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: