If Syria were Zimbabwe, would the armed conflict be over by now?

Are Africans geopolitical pawns that the world can use arbitrarily when it feels the need to purge its conscience and purport to protect humanity? Are Africans the only “savages” that need to be rescued? Are there no atrocities committed outside Africa that ought to attract the interest of the world?

Most fundamentally, if Syria were Zimbabwe, would the conflict be over by now?

International inaction over the Syrian crisis would suggest that all these questions may be answered in the affirmative.

If Syria were Zimbabwe, the conflict would have automatically assumed a different complexion – NATO would have enforced a no-fly zone. The Security Council would have sat immediately to authorise a coalition of the willing to adopt ‘all necessary measures’ to maintain international peace and security in the area, in addition to referring the matter to the International Criminal Court. The International Criminal Court for its part would be working round the clock to put together arrest warrants for alleged perpetrators of violations of international criminal law. It is more than likely that Bashar al-Assad would have been dead by now – US Special Forces, the usual story.

Of course, this is not to suggest that there shouldn’t be accountability for atrocities if they are committed in Zimbabwe, or elsewhere in Africa. They must. However, if international law principles are applied as selectively as they have been over the last decade, do we not run the risk that their legitimacy will be undermined?

To illustrate the point: During times of political unrest over the last ten years in Zimbabwe, the international community has reacted as though a Third World War was imminent. Some have (quite ridiculously) gone as far as to suggest military intervention to resolve the crisis in the country. Yet so far, there have been 15,000 casualties in Syria and we have not seen the usual hypertensive  excitement from the so-called protectors of humanity.  Irrespective of the geopolitical arguments that have been raised to support international inaction in Syria, the argument that Africa has become the test-tube the world uses to try out its ‘save the world’ notions and international law principles is becoming more and more irresistible.

Does international humanitarian law apply to armed conflicts or doesn’t it? Does international criminal law apply to all perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity or doesn’t it? Do we have a Responsibility to Protect humanity from mass atrocities or don’t we?

The answers to these fundamental international law questions ought to be uniform, regardless of whether an armed conflict is taking place in Zimbabwe, Syria or anywhere else in the world. To do otherwise would lend credence to the school of thought that moves that international law is designed as a neo-colonial instrument applicable  to Africans alone.

Like other international lawyers across Africa, I sincerely hope that these all-important humanitarian principles are not mere tools used strategically by the stronger powers to enlighten the Continent many so wrongly perceive to be Dark.

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The Charles Taylor verdict: A victory for karma, a loss for international criminal law?

I met Courtenay Griffiths QC in July 2009 when I was stationed at the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. My office so happened to be adjacent to that of the Charles Taylor defence team. Although not being tried by the International Criminal Court, the trial of the former Liberian President and warlord was being hosted in The Hague as opposed to the usual seat of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown due to security concerns.

A perpetual debate Courtenay and I would have, which we continue to discuss to this day, is whether international criminal justice is a genuine pursuit to end impunity in respect of the most heinous crimes that shock the conscience of humanity – or whether it is an instrument in the hands of western states to execute justice ‘a la carte’ against the enemies of powerful states, particularly those in Africa. It is often asked why the only defendants before the International Criminal Court are African and why war crimes committed in Iraq, Syria, Venezuela and the Middle East are never the subject of international criminal law – the major exception of course being those charged with international crimes committed in the early nineties in the former Yugoslavia by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Those, like Courtenay, who are generally opposed to the motives underlying international criminal justice take the view that the International Criminal Court and other UN-assisted international criminal tribunals have become a tool that western liberal democracies impose on developing country leaders with whom they have fallen out of political favour – in other words, a backdoor by which powerful states target their political enemies. The statistics would suggest that this is an attractive position to adopt – 100 per cent of the cases at the International Criminal Court relate to conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa.

But, let’s take the case of Charles Taylor.

After training as a guerilla fighter in Libya, he led the National Patriotic Front of Liberia which intiated the First Liberian Civil War. He gained control of a large portion of the country and became one of the most prominent warlords in Africa. He was elected president of Liberia in 1997. Opposition to his regime grew, culminating in the outbreak of the Second Liberian Civil War. Over a thousand civilians were killed during the conflict and thousands more were displaced from their homes. It is almost undisputed that Taylor commanded militia that were responsible for the atrocities and horrific acts of violence committed in Liberia. For these atrocities, one can argue with relative ease, that he was directly responsible and ought to have been found accountable. It is on this basis that most people have little difficulty with the prospect of Taylor facing a custodial sentence in the United Kingdom – but are these the offences for which Taylor was charged in the proceedings conducted in The Hague?

The short answer is no.

The charges Taylor faced before the Special Court for Sierra Leone had nothing to do with his conduct in Liberia. Rather, the charges were based on the assistance he provided to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in their attempt to overthrow the Jospeh Momoh government. The resulting civil war lasted 11 years and left over 50,000 people dead. Crucially, Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone. It is his participation in this conflict that resulted in his prosecution and conviction in The Hague.

Being an African and an international criminal lawyer – I am a staunch supporter of the international criminal justice project. However, international criminal law remains law and prosecutions of this nature need to be true to matters of principle. The difficulties that the prosecution faced in the Taylor trial were myriad:

1. The judgment rejects the overdrawn prosecution argument that Taylor and Forday Sankoh, the leader of the RUF “made common cause” in Libya to wage wars in West Africa.

2. The prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Sankoh took orders from Taylor or that Taylor participated in the planning of the invasion of Sierra Leone. In any event, the Special Court for Sierra Leone had no jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. The indictment period did not cover the origins of the war – the temporal jurisdiction of the court is from November 1996 to the end of the war in 2002.

3. The witnesses used by the prosecution, the majority of which adduced hearsay evidence, did not constitute the best evidence in respect of Taylor’s conduct. The person who could have most usefully testified that Sankoh took orders from Taylor would have been Sankoh himself but he died before the trial commenced. The court’s conclusion that the prosecution succeeded in proving that Taylor “aided and abetted” the crimes in Sierra Leone is controversial since Taylor had effectively eliminated key witnesses to that crime. It is alleged that Taylor caused the murder of Sam Bockarie, his key link to Sankoh and the RUF during the period of the indictment, in Liberia shortly after Bockarie was indicted. Johnny Paul Koroma, a notorious Sierra Leonean coup maker who also dealt intimately with Taylor, curiously disappeared. He was also allegedly murdered either in Liberia or Ivory Coast on Taylor’s orders after his indictment.

4. The prosecution’s reliance on the concept of joint criminal enterprise was ill-advised, given that the court had rejected the argument in successive judgments by the court. The prosecution argued that Taylor was in common purpose  with Sankoh to invade Sierra Leone and loot is diamond reserves, and that the RUF’s terror campaign was a direct result of this blood pact. Taylor’s Defence made no effort to deny Taylor’s support for the RUF, but it stated that “diamonds only financed the procurement of arms and ammunition” for the RUF between 1998 and 2001. The Defence contends that there was a “purely political motive” for Taylor’s support of the RUF war, which may be immoral but certainly not illegal in international law (since the law of aggression was not at issue).

Given these gaping holes in the case, should Charles Taylor have been convicted? This is obviously not an easy question to answer and the jury is still out on the matter.

Undoubtedly, few will be sorry to see Taylor locked up – if only for reasons of karmic retribution. He committed atrocities in Liberia and his case set an important precedent as far as ensuring heads of state are brought to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is especially important in Africa where, too often, leaders are seen as being above the law and get away with murder – and much worse.

Having said that, to ensure that the legitimacy of international criminal law is not lost, we must remain cognisant of the danger of the political expediency factor and the degree to which international criminal law can be exploited for the benefit of the powerful. Some would go as far as to suggest that countries such as the US, China, and India who worry about the politicisation of the Office of the Prosecutor, and, by extension, the politicisation of the ICC are justified in so thinking. In some ways, the Taylor case lends credence to this view.

For the rest of us, however, the trial and conviction of Charles Taylor is an important step in the fight against impunity in Africa, particularly in respect of heads of state who often too large to fall within the grasp of domestic criminal law.

Occupy Africa? The AU in the ICU as US Special Forces hunt down the ‘spokesperson of God’

The death of Gaddafi in many ways showed the African Union (AU) to be weak and impotent. When the Libyan leader started shooting Libyan civilians, the regional body was silent. When NATO intervened to protect civilians and civilian protected areas following a mandate from the UN Security Council, the neocolonialism mantra went into overdrive. When he was shot dead in Libya, the AU’s silence was louder. The Libyan episode is deeply ironic because Gaddafi, during his tenure as Libya’s leader, called for the creation of an African military to defend Africa. Gaddafi’s vision was far-reaching, calling as it did for the establishment of a United States of Africa to rival the United States and the European Union. “We want a single currency. We want one African passport,” he declared. In theory, many Africans share this vision. Indeed, many of Africa’s statesmen and leaders paid lip service to it. The truth of the matter is that, in a continent ravaged by war, poverty and corruption, these ideals would prove impossible to achieve as more of Africa’s leaders sought to entrench their positions using violence and appropriating national resources for their personal use. The natural result has been war, war and more war.

Unsurprisingly therefore, all of the cases before the International Criminal Court (ICC) are from Africa, an unfortunate reality that has created tension between the Court and the AU. A notable case that the Court has attempted to prosecute relates to one Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony proclaims himself to be the “spokesperson of God” and a spirit medium, primarily of the Holy Spirit which the group believes can represent itself in many manifestations. Combining local religious beliefs, mysticism, traditional religion and Christianity, the LRA claims to be creating a theocratic state. It is accused of widespread human rights violations and breaches of international criminal law, including murder, abduction, enlisting child soldiers and sexual enslavement. The group operates in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central Africa. The AU neglects or refuses to condemn, prosecute, wage war against or otherwise censure the LRA. Innocent civilians die daily, women are raped every minute and children give up their innocence as armed conflict consumes their existence. Fellow Africans continue to go about their usual business as if nothing is going on.

American foreign policy chimes against this bleak background. At the early stages of his presidency, the Obama doctrine had been difficult to articulate. George Bush had made Obama’s job easier with his pugnacious approach to global politics. Calls for peace and a need to end the war in Iraq were a strong feature of Obama’s first campaign, leading many to believe erroneously that he would be anti-war. Various of his National Security Strategy documents abandoned the aggressive tone of a ‘war on terror’ and focused instead on a ‘network of hatred and evil.’ Obama, it was thought, heralded a new era, characterized by making peace with the world. Over the last year, Obama has learnt the art of war. He has overseen the US military play a key role in the killing of Osama Bin Laden and more recently regime change in Libya through the killing of Muammar Gaddafi. Most recently, he has stretched his tentacles over to Africa in a hundred-strong Special Forces mission designed to disband the LRA. Obama’s motives are unclear. Yet STILL, the AU is silent.

Admittedly, the LRA has committed atrocities and must definitely be disbanded, if not destroyed. But for how long will Africa’s leaders and its people look on as foreign missions carry out the all important task of peace building in Africa’s own backyard?

Gaddafi was bad, but his idea of an African military was not bad at all. Africa needs to protect itself against itself. Gaddafi is now dead while the AU languishes in the intensive care unit.

Palestine: to state or not two state?

Over the last decade, the Israel-Palestine conflict has taken a back seat as US foreign policy, and indeed that of a large proportion of the ‘free world’, has been transfixed on the war on terror. The conflict re-entered the limelight last week as President Mahmoud Abbas called on the United Nations General Assembly to back a two-state  solution, recognising the state of Palestine with pre-1967 borders. President Abbas’s speech was met with thundering applause, mainly from ‘smaller’ states which form the majority of the General Assembly but have disproportionately less power in the control of global affairs compared to the five most powerful states in the world which control the fifteen-member United Nations Security Council – the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia and France.

Many ask: why the sudden resuscitation of this conflict on the world stage? A likely answer is that after decades of circular negotiations which have produced no outcome, the Palestinian leadership has decided to seek international legitimacy as a way of strengthening their position. It is also thought that the increase in Israeli settlements on land that Palestinians view as their own has compounded their call for a solution to a conflict that, along with that in the DRC, is the most complex in the world. The consequences of the creation of a Palestinian state may include possible recourse to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Israelis on Palestinian territory. Abbas contends that being accorded state status by the United Nations will improve the Palestinian bargaining position in relation to Israel and expose Israel as an occupying power in another sovereign state. Israel, understandably, is not happy with Palestine’s bid, viewing it as a threat to future negotiations, opening the door to violence and instability and in arguable violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords. It is reported that the general Israeli view is to embrace a two-state solution eventually, although critics argue that Israelis are unwilling to make the compromises necessary to achieve this.

At the 2010 session of the General Assembly, President Obama was in strong support of a two-state solution, along the lines of the current Palestinian bid. He asserted that “[i]f an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbours who are committed to co-existence. The hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity.  I refuse to accept that future.” In a spectacular backtrack, thought by many to be another Obama strategy for political survival in the face of an impending presidential election, Obama has refused to support the most recent Palestinian cry for a two-state solution. He superficially argues that only negotiations can bring a lasting peace and stability. Europe is confused and divided on the issue. History, international law and principle may explain why.

All that remains is to ask – if the world, in particular the western liberal world, was hyperventilating with excitement at the Arab Spring which saw the fall of many a western foe (notably Gaddafi and Mubarak), why is there such reluctance to support the self-determination of a people seeking a springtime start to a lasting peace? Can we blame ordinary Palestinians for feeling forgotten and excluded? How does the world react to West Bank settlers who are deeply opposed to the very idea of a Palestinian state on land they believe was given to them by God? Can the skepticism of Palestinians about the “peace process” and their resentment to Jewish settlements expanding on their land be successfully tempered? Is Hamas’s threat to ‘wipe out Israel’ real?

Despite doubt after Obama’s declared support for Israel, Abbas has stated the Palestinian position. Whatever the outcome of the Security Council deliberations, Palestine has succeeded in drumming up worldwide support and much needed pre-negotiation legitimacy for its bid for a two-state solution. However, the reality of global power play suggests that this is a small peak in the series of valleys in the bid to find a solution to a conflict many believe has no solution.

Errors in the “War on Terror” must not cloud the enduring legacy of 9/11

9/11 has been the most important event to shape foreign policy this century since the Second World War. It was unforeseen in a post-Charter world that the United States would face an attack of this nature. The attack on Pearl Harbour had been in Hawaii, against a naval base and in the context of a world war. The Oklahoma City bombing was indeed a terrorist act but committed by domestic maniacs and on a significantly smaller scale. The means, extent and effect were all unprecedented. The attacks on the 11th of September 2001 took the form of a series of coordinated suicide bombings against targets in New York City and the Washington DC area. On the fateful morning, 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger jets. They intentionally crashed two planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. Both towers collapsed within two hours. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia. A fourth plane was part-salvaged by passengers and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, preventing it from reaching its intended target in Washington DC. Nearly 3000 people died. The last time this many deaths had occurred in an attack on a single day was during the American Civil War which ended in 1865.

Ten years, two wars, billions of dollars and thousands of dead soldiers later, many criticise the American response to the 9/11 attack, coined the ‘War on Terror’ by George Bush. Under international law, ‘war’ is a term of art and its use by the Bush Administration is perhaps misleading as it suggests that the law of armed conflict engages in various territories across the world where  the US perceives a mere threat to its security. The flawed nature of such an approach is immediately self-evident, not least in respect of determining who is a legitimate military target. More accurately, the US-led response may be described as denoting a global military, political, legal and ideological struggle against organizations designated as terrorist and regimes that were accused of having a connection to them or providing them with support or were perceived, or presented as posing a threat to the US and its allies in general. Some argue that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a ‘huge overreaction.’ Yet others contend that the US approach serves to reinforce US hegemony. Constant breaches of the law on the use of force and of international humanitarian law have created an uneasy perception that the US believes it is not bound by the rule of law in international relations. Others believe that counter-terrorism is a matter for domestic law enforcement and no new international law principles on terrorism are required for this purpose. Whatever view one takes on any of these issues, the terrorist threat is a real one, as became clear exactly ten years ago.

Like George Bush or hate him; but how does one respond to events so tragic and inhuman, perpetrated against innocent civilians? President Obama has dropped the nomenclature of a ‘war on terror’ and referred instead in his National Security Strategy to a ‘Network of Hatred and Evil.’ One can scarcely deny that Obama’s approach is largely the same as that of Bush as is amply demonstrated by the treatment of detainees of Guantanamo Bay, the perpetuation of the war in Afghanistan and the targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden. Yes, these policies can and perhaps ought to be criticised for the breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law associated with them. However, all too often, we forget the children who lost their fathers, the mothers who lost their children, companies that crumbled and livelihoods that were in an instant destroyed. We also forget that this unfortunate calamity ought not be repeated. Without advocating revenge, it must be conceded that preventing another 9/11 shall not be an easy task.

In the midst of flawed wars, condoned torture and the clash of civilisations, the enduring legacy of 9/11 must not be forgotten. Overpowering hope and not sadness must suffuse the accounts of that day as we struggle to make the world a safer place while maintaining the bond of humanity that transcends religious, cultural and ideological divides.

Libya: Why are we blindly following NATO?

Image courtesy of http://www.sodahead.com

Gaddafi is a dictator but this does not mean that we should suspend reason in analysing the Libyan situation.

The Security Council Resolution that authorised military intervention allowed for the protection of civilians. The resolution authorised “Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorisation conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council.”

I am convinced the no-fly zone imposed by the coalition initially fell within the mandate of this resolution to the extent that it sought to protect civilians. However, one would be hard-pressed to argue that armed rebels fighting in military zones fall within the meaning of ‘civilians’ generally accepted under international law. With the intervention of NATO, the US and other Arab countries, the war became an international armed conflict, meaning that armed rebels participating in the hostilities are classified as combatants and not civilians. It follows that the rebels do not fall within the ambit of the protection of the Security Council resolution. To the extent that NATO, the US or any other forces are providing them with help, it can be argued that such assistance is outside the limits of the Security Council authorisation.

As argued by Richard Norton Taylor, although the Security Council resolution excluded a “foreign occupation force of any form”, it was quite clear from the start that regime change was the goal. Regime change is a controversial doctrine to justify military intervention under international law. So controversial is this doctrine that it is now generally accepted that regime change, the legal basis upon which Iraq was invaded ten years ago, was wrong. It is arguably one of the main reasons why the use of force has not been invoked in the case of Zimbabwe. As such, the interpretation of the Security Council authorisation cannot be expanded to the point where it is invoked for regime change purposes in the ‘interests of civilians.’ Despite the Libyan rebels’ claim to have ‘gone it alone’, it is well-known that they received external assistance. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates contributed with covert intervention and military advisors. Britain, France and Italy provided training and communications support. The US assisted with pilotless drones and intelligence. Most recently, it has been reported that British Special Forces with the help of other countries have planned ‘Operation Mermaid Dawn’, the latest surge in the conflict for weeks. It is not correct that the rebels have waged this battle alone.

Importantly, the UN has not recognised the National Transitional Council. The UN, particularly the General Assembly, is the closest we come to a world body through which legitimacy can be expressed. The Libyan National Transitional Council was formed on 27 February 2011 to act as “the political face of the revolution.” On 23 March the Council established an Executive Board to act as a transitional government for Libya. Mahmoud Jibril was appointed as Chairman of that board stating that council now serves as the “legislative body”, and the new Executive Board will serve as the “executive body.” None of these officials is elected. It is unclear upon what basis this body has been recognised by 46 countries as the legitimate government of Libya. At the end of July this year, the head of the Libyan rebels’ armed forces and two of his aides were killed by gunmen, creating a power vacuüm at the top of the opposition military hierarchy and raising questions about who was responsible. The National Transitional Council and the coalition have swept this matter under the carpet although it is an indicator that if the transfer of power from Gaddafi’s government to any other body is not conducted properly chaos will ensue. History is replete with examples, not least Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps even Kosovo, where foreign nations used force for regime change purposes with unintended disastrous results.

South Africa is now under pressure because it has resisted the US-sponsored resolution to unfreeze Libya’s assets for use by the rebels. And yet we must credit Jacob Zuma for not blindly joining the euphoria and stepping back to ask important questions:

Who are the rebels? What is their support base? On what basis have they been declared legitimate? Does the Council’s leader have the mandate of the people?  If so, how has this been assessed? What will the Libya of the future look like? Who will be in charge? How credible are the rebels?

The war is not yet over.

Most agree that dictatorship is a vice but that should not mean that we suspend judgment and analysis in confronting it, particularly in view of the oil bonanza we all know will follow the deposition of Gaddafi. The reckless, NATO-US led transfer of power to the rebels sets a bad precedent for other African states. It is paramount to conduct a referendum in Libya to assess the Transitional National Council’s true support base and to ask the Libyan people how they would like to take their country forward. Without playing down the rebels’ contribution, the skills that are required to revolt are not necessarily the same skills that enable one to run a country. Concentrating the entire nation’s destiny solely in the hands of a few appointed people is to undermine the democratic principles it was believed were being fought for.

We ought to think carefully before we destroy a country in the name of trying to save it.

Gaddafi, time to sally forth?

“Shall we sally forth?”

“Pardon?”

“I said, shall we sally forth?”

The quizzical expression on my face intensified.

“Fadzayi, shall we sally forth? Shall we go?”

This brief exchange with my boss revealed that my command of the English language had not reached the required levels of Dickensian elegance so typical of the bar in England. As we left King’s Bench Walk for a mid-morning latte, I noticed that both the red top and broadsheet newspapers bore news of the Libyan war and advances made by the rebels in Tripoli. There is much excitement, not least on the part of UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

“This has not been our revolution, but we can be proud that we have played our part,” said the Prime Minister.

It is interesting that just a week ago, Cameron was slamming those who participated in the London riots which spread throughout the country. Yet, in spite of his own twisted motivations, Gaddafi too would say that the rebels were rioters. Obviously, to draw such a parallel would be simplistic. The rioters in Britain have not suffered under dictatorship and repressive government, quite unlike the rebels in Libya who claim to be fighting for a free and democratic Libya.

But who decides which revolution is legitimate and that which is not? Although the rebels in Libya claim to be going it alone, it is clear that they would not have managed without the support of NATO, led by Cameron and Sarkozy.

Without a doubt, the sun appears to be setting on the Gaddafi regime and before we know it, it will be time for him to sally forth.

The more fundamental question however is, who will take over? What sort of regime will be in charge? Will Libyans have full control over their oil?

Or will they have a debt to pay to the true sponsors of their revolution?

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.