Mbeki warns of risk for Libya-like interventions

2012-02-17 07:00

Former president Thabo Mbeki has warned that continued divisions among African states will give space for more foreign armed interventions as happened in Libya last year.

Delivering the Dullah Omar memorial lecture at the University of the Western Cape last night, Mbeki said the “Libyan tragedy and debacle” of Western military intervention occurred because “things fell apart”.

He quoted, in his customary style and to rousing applause, Irish poet William Butler Yeats, as well as Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, who said “we had learnt the ways of cheating, and allowed those who have the means to abuse state power to control us, our institutions and our minds.

“In the end, and as a result, the African centre could not hold.”

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed last year by a mob after uprisings by rebel forces in the country and after the United Nations opened the door for military intervention by declaring a no-fly zone over the country.

Mbeki said Nato intervened not to protect civilians, but to “empower the opposition National Transitional Council in a military campaign to overthrow the Gaddafi regime”.

Mbeki said Africans should learn these lessons from the Libyan experience:
» Western powers have “enhanced their appetite to intervene on our continent” after the Cold War, including through armed force, to protect their interests.

» These powers will argue they are “our unique friends as defenders of our democratic and human rights” and they have to act because Africa, through the African Union (AU) and regional bodies, had failed to do so.

» These powers will act as they did in Libya especially if, in situations of internal conflict, which they would also foment.

» African disunity and weak defences of our right to self-determination “opens the door to re-colonisation”, while Western powers are also resolved to try prevent Africa “to establish a truly strategic alliance, especially with the People’s Republic of China”.

He urged the ANC, during its centenary celebrations this year, to check that it was doing enough to protect and lead the continent, as was envisaged in 1900 when the first Pan African Congress was held to discuss European colonisation.

When asked, during question time, whether the current South African government was doing enough to defend Africa’s interests, he said people should ask the current government and the ministers and their deputies who attended the lecture.

He urged trade unions and youth structures to make their voices heard. “I think power should in the first place originate from the people,” he said.

Mbeki also said in question time that the International Criminal Court wasn’t meant to replace national courts, and that African countries should try to solve their own problems before they end up there.

Peer review between countries on the continent should be strengthened.

Mbeki has been involved mainly in foreign matters since he left office, and he has refused to be drawn into commenting on domestic politics.

The lecture, organised by the university’s Community Law Centre, was attended by judges such as Siraj Desai and Vincent Saldanha.

Also there were Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula (who played a key role in ousting Mbeki from the ANC’s presidency in 2007), Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and deputy ministers Andries Nel, Thandi Tobias-Pokolo, Marius Fransman (also the ANC’s Western Cape leader) as well as former Cope Eastern Cape leader Andile Nkuhlu, who recently returned to the ANC.

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