from Africa in Transition

The AU and South Africa Recognize Libyan NTC--Finally

September 21, 2011

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South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (L) talks with Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security, during an emergency summit of the AU Peace and Security Council in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa August 26, 2011. (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

On September 20, the African Union and South Africa recognized the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the government of Libya. On the same day, the UN General Assembly voted one hundred and fourteen to seventeen with fifteen abstentions to seat the NTC envoy as the representative of Libya.

Nevertheless, as the vote shows, opinion on the transitional government remains divided. Though the UN credentials committee recommended that the NTC to be seated, Angola, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), moved to defer action. That motion was defeated by one hundred and seven to twenty-two.

Led by South Africa, some Africans have criticized NATO’s extended intervention in Libya as exceeding its security council mandate to protect civilians. There was also unease about the overthrow with outside support of the Qaddafi government, which has long sustained the AU politically and financially. Libyan racism against African migrant workers in areas liberated from Qaddafi has received press play and probably reduced African popular enthusiasm for the new Libyan government. As recently as August 23, the South African foreign minister said Pretoria would not recognize a rebel government. “As far as we are concerned, if this government falls, there is no government,” Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said, according to press reports.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council met in Addis Ababa on August 26 and its ad hoc committee on Libya met on September 14 in Pretoria, preparing the way for AU recognition. (As late as the day before the meeting, Zuma reiterated again the AU position of nonrecognition for the NTC.) According to the press, at both meetings the AU urged Libyans to form an inclusive government that would promote national unity, reconciliation and democracy. It also urged the transitional government to protect foreign workers, including African migrants.

Some Africans have openly criticized the AU and South Africa for being slow to recognize the Libyan change of government. At a joint, on-the-record appearance in New York with Sierra Leone president Koroma, Ivory Coast president Ouattara criticized the AU’s slow response, and President Koroma agreed that the tardiness was evidence that the AU remains a “work in progress.”

At least in the short term, Pretoria’s and the AU’s late recognition of the NTC will probably diminish their continental reputations. But with by far the largest and most modern economy in Africa, South Africa cannot be ignored. And the AU is the sole repository for African aspirations for transnational unity.