Libya: Another Black Hawk Down moment?

The excitement that initially greeted the Arab Spring has waned and the war in Libya is increasingly becoming another mindless African war. In some ways it reminds one of the movie ‘Black Hawk Down’, an American war drama film which attempts to depict the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. Like the US and the UN 1993 mission in Somalia,  the Security Council and NATO misunderstood the complexity and extent of the war they embarked upon in Libya earlier this year.

It was hoped that a few aerial bombs would scare Gaddafi into surrender. A few targeted killings directed at his compound were attempted. The Security Council referred the crisis to the International Criminal Court. Assistance has been provided to rebels. The UK, on a somewhat controversial basis, has recognised the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya and expelled Libyan diplomats from London.

Yet, seven months later, the Libyan war remains a stalemate.

The real problem is the absence of political will on the part of African states to address matters of foreign policy in their own backyard. The result is an accountability vacuum which NATO and the US have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to fill. The great irony is that for several decades, Gaddafi championed the African cause, insisting for a time on the establishment of the United States of Africa. Coupled with his ability to bankroll several African projects through his oil-rich empire, this has made it difficult for African leaders to criticise him openly for killing civilians who attempted to protest against his rule. With the exception of Jacob Zuma, Africa watched quietly as Gaddafi unleashed a reign of terror upon his own population. The African Union did nothing, except complain about neo-imperialism when the Security Council authorised a no-fly zone for the protection of Libyan civilians. It was Africa’s duty to protect Libyan civilians, in the same way that the Economic Community of West African States set up an armed Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to deal with the Liberian civil war in 1990.

What we have now is another casualty to add to the basket of African war zones which most prominently includes the DRC, Sudan, Northern Uganda, Somalia, Chad and the Central African Republic, to mention a few. A wholesale rethink of the military strategy adopted by the NATO/US coalition in Libya is required before more lives are lost, while Africa needs to look introspectively and solve the more fundamental causes of war on the continent. Intervention by non-African military forces is like putting a band-aid on a bleeding fracture. It is bound not to work. History is replete with examples of this. African countries may be weak in certain respects but they have certainly mastered the art of modern asymmetrical warfare.

Never underestimate them.

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