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Africa’s Voice of Reason: Kagame and the war in Libya

By Bob A. Kasango

Whether Gaddafi outlives the NATO airstrikes or not, he is the wrong man for Libya and Africa must ask him to go as they ask NATO to stop the shelling.

Rebel leaders rejected a plan presented by the African Union (AU) for a ceasefire and an end to the conflict in Libya, saying it did not meet their basic demand that Col. Muammar Gaddafi, his sons and entourage leave immediately. “We will not negotiate with the blood of our martyrs,” said the rebel national council chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil. «We will die with them or be victorious.»

The African Union negotiators had left meetings in Tripoli with Gaddafi, who said he accepted what they called a “roadmap” for a political settlement involving a ceasefire and the suspension of NATO airstrikes.

But the AU delegates arrived in Benghazi and faced a chilly reception. Protesters implored the rebel leadership not to accept anything less than the departure of  Gaddafi and his family. One protester, reportedly, screamed: “How much blood does he need to let go? He killed enough. He killed so many young people.”

But why should we care about the goings-on in Libya? The immediate reaction to the death of hundreds, maybe thousands of innocents is anger, not analysis. Yet anger will not be enough to get us through what is sure to be a long struggle. For that we will need answers.

The ones we have heard so far have been comforting but familiar. The rebels stand for freedom and Gaddaffi hates it. Libya is oil rich and the West envy this and want a piece of the apple. Libya is militarily strong and the West resent this. The West believes might is right and so are bullying Gaddafi into submission and eventual exit. All of which might be true. But there are billions of poor and weak and oppressed people around the world. They don’t take the risks the Libyan people have taken. There is something stronger at work here than deprivation and jealousy. Something that can move men to kill but also to die.

The AU position is that this is an “African problem” that requires an “African solution”! Libya burst into flames as the civil strife in the Ivory Coast also raged on. Over 3,000 innocent civilians lost lives in Ivory Coast as they awaited the great “African solution”. As expected, it never came because there is none. It’s the French who restored some sanity. The intransigence of Laurent Gbagbo was buttressed by the irresponsible stance of the AU.

Gaddafi has been a great beneficiary of this AU selfishness. Each time the AU publicly expresses support for Gaddafi, he murders more of the Libyan citizens, whom he calls “his people” – a detestable phrase that makes many African leaders believe they own the people they lead and so can do with or for them as they wish.

There is no such a thing as an “African problem”. The madness in Libya and Ivory Coast is a problem facing all humanity.

Gaddafi was a good man in the past, supported good and progressive causes like the ANC, the National Resistance Army struggle in Uganda and many others but he made many mistakes as President Museveni has pointed out. After South African money, Libyan money is the next most visible in investments on the continent. But the Libyan people remain oppressed and deprived. Whether Gaddafi outlives the NATO airstrikes or not , he is the wrong man for Libya and Africa must ask him to go as they ask NATO to stop the shelling.

Africa’s Heads of State and governments meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, annually and whenever occasion demands, to discuss issues affecting the continent but after each meeting nothing happens. There is virtually nothing to show for all the millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that go into such meetings.

Today Somalia is a failed state, the war is still raging on after 20 years, hundreds of thousands have died, millions of people have been displaced and become refugees. But the AU has been meeting and talking all this time. For what? Only Uganda and Burundi have made the sacrifice to make Somalia a better place.

In DR Congo the civil war is still on. Thousands of Congolese have died and property destroyed. What has the AU done to stop the war and the looting of Congo’s resources?

Zimbabwe is yet to have a truly functional government. Inflation is over 2,200 000 %, the economy is broke with 94% of the people unemployed and President Mugabe is still in control despite having lost the elections. Most AU leaders support him! And these leaders have audacity to meet in the name of “the people” to discuss problems affecting them. What problems? African problems indeed because they are caused by Africa’s leaders who have no clue on the solution.

In Kenya hundreds of people were killed during and after the elections and property destroyed. The AU did nothing. Had it not been the lone effort of former UN boss Kofi Annan who dedicated himself to solving the problem, Kenya would have been another Zimbabwe and Africa’s leaders would still be meeting as usual.

Like her predecessor, the AU has been powerless and helpless while genocide is committed against the people of Darfur. Millions of Darfurians have murdered, raped and tortured while the AU leaders meet every year to drink wine and have fun. Look at how poorly equipped the peacekeepers the AU sent to Darfur are. One commander said: “The leaders in Africa have sent us here to keep peace but there is no peace to keep”. President Omar El-Bashir, the main perpetrator of crimes against humanity in Darfur, a first sitting president to be indicted by the UN International Criminal Court, continues to stay in power and wreck havoc in Darfur and now in Abyei. The AU leaders will not help execute the international arrest warrant against him.

Ivory Coast, the once prosperous nation has been reduced to rubble. The AU has done nothing to stop the war and reduce the insecurity in the country.  Even as the leader of pro-Gbagbo thugs, also known as the “Young Patriots,” Charles Ble Goude and who was Gbagbo’s Youth Minister, made a call for genocide on national TV, the AU and Africa had no “African Solution” to this “African Problem”. It took the military might of former colonial power  France to sort out the mess.

Which of the major issues bothering Africans has AU solved or appear to be solving despite years of meetings? Is it the poverty, famine and malnutrition that have made Africans to appear as sub-humans in eyes of many? When will the AU leaders find this so-called African Solution to the African Problem?

But there is hope coming out of the voices in Rwanda and now Senegal and Liberia.

President Abdoulaye Wade has made a very strong statement against Gaddafi and so has Madame President Johnson Sirleaf. But the strongest support for the UN Resolution 1973 and the NATO airstrikes in Libya have come from President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. In support of the Resolution he said, “This is not sufficient for our continent: we should be doing, and seen to be doing, the right thing at the right time – not from the sidelines of operations such as this, but right at the heart of solutions to the problems that are facing our people.”

“My country is still haunted by the memories of the international community looking away. No country knows better than my own the cost of the international community failing to intervene to prevent a state killing its own people. So it’s encouraging that members of the international community appear to have learnt the lessons of that failure.” Strong and passionate words.

Of course the message is more important than the messenger, but when other leaders are content just to attack NATO and the West and offer no practical solutions to the problem in Libya, people start looking up to Kagame as the voice of reason emerging out of Africa. Kagame, the remaining lone ranger of the once famed “new breed of African leaders” continues to reposition himself as a model African leader.

In Washington, D.C. last October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Rwanda “a model for African nations to follow”. Kagame has become a much-feted figure. NewAfrican, an influential pan-African news magazine has just named Kagame among the top 100 most influential Africans.

Rwanda was named the top reformer in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2010 ranking, vaulting up 76 places from its 2009 ranking. Rwanda also gained ground in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, moving from 102nd place in 2008 to 89th in 2009. Clearly work remains to be done, but the trends are positive.

The primary school completion rate is way above the continent’s average. Life expectancy has increased by nearly 10 years, the quality of healthcare is top. The number of young people (28-40 years) in position of real authority and responsibility tells a story of a country preparing for the future and that values its human resource. The policy to have every school going child to be computer literate is well on course. Rwanda was the first and probably the only African nation to take up the “One laptop per child” initiative. Every citizen of Rwanda has health insurance courtesy of the government. All this in a space of 17 years after the devastating genocide.

All is not well in Rwanda and Kagame is nowhere near a perfect human being but positive things are taking place in that country and the future looks bright. The challenge for Kagame is to institutionalise all these gains such that whoever comes after him, regardless of their ethnic background will build on the foundations laid.

He must find non-military, non-confrontational mechanisms to resolve the disagreements with his bush war comrades and his opponents at home and abroad. The noise coming from those circles scare some people especially those that would like to invest their money long term in Rwanda. Money hates noise and will run away at the slightest increase in decibels.

Bob A. Kasango is an advocate with Hall & Partners (Solicitors & Legal Attorneys) in Kampala.

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