Yesterday, an African Union (AU) delegation in Libya proposed a “road map” for peace to Colonel Moammar Qadhafi and the rebels headquartered in Benghazi. The deal featured “a political settlement involving a cease-fire and the suspension of NATO airstrikes.” Qadhafi accepted the proposal and the rebels rejected it. The United States reiterated its demand that Qadhafi step down, a stance that puts Washington at odds with at least part of the AU’s plan.
Reactions in the international press ran heavily against the AU’s efforts. Many outlets have questioned the AU’s credibility, pointing out that three members of the delegation originally came to power in coups. Many commentators have also pronounced the AU’s visit a failure. Joshua Keating of Foreign Policy is one. In a piece titled “Maybe the AU Should Sit This One Out,” he writes,
[Given] the AU’s not-so-stellar history of supporting ill-fated governments of national unity to resolve conflicts in places like Kenya and Zimbabwe, […] it’s not quite clear that the Union has an awful lot to contribute here.
The AU’s visit was a failure in that it the delegation did not get both sides to agree to a plan. But just for the sake of presenting a few dissenting minority views, here is a CNN piece that leaves the question of future success open. One of the experts they quote expresses some optimism:
Paul-Simon Handy, research director at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, [said] the AU’s efforts shouldn’t be written off completely.
The talks could prove a crucial foot in the door to further negotiations — perhaps brokered again by the AU — at a time that NATO air strikes have not succeeded in pushing the conflict beyond stalemate.
“It is to be expected that the mediation won’t be a one-off because the rebels are unlikely to abide by this road map and there’s a lot more negotiation to be done,” he said.
Former US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley struck a different note regarding the talks, criticizing the rebels’ judgment on Twitter. In one tweet, Crowley wrote, “The #Libyan rebels should accept the #AU’s ceasefire proposal, then demand that #Qaddafi step down so a democratic transition can proceed.” In a follow-up, he added, “The #Libyan rebels must be rational actors in this crisis. If they accept the #AU roadmap, the AU is on the hook for #Qaddafi’s next move.”
I do not know what will happen in Libya, and whether we will see a clear victor or a de facto partition. But I do think that whatever happens in Libya will affect the AU’s international standing. A number of observers have serious doubts about the organization’s efficacy and integrity – doubts those observers already harbored, perhaps, but nevertheless doubts that have been exacerbated by recent events. On the other hand, the civil war in Libya has also added to a sense that the AU’s political values (pro-reconciliation, against non-African intervention) differ sharply from those of the West. As those differences come out so starkly, the AU could gain support in some quarters even as it loses some standing in others.