What did South Africa expect after voting in support of the UN resolution to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya? That the UN would issue a press statement that would cause Gaddafi immediately to cease all fire and halt all fighter jets? I fail to understand why, having sanctioned a vote in favour at the UN Security Council resolution, President Jacob Zuma, on March 21 2011 sounded like he had changed his mind. But who is Zuma speaking against and who is he speaking about when he says “no to the regime-change doctrine and no to the foreign occupation of Libya”? Is he suggesting that the Gaddafi regime — a regime that is waging a full-scale war against its own citizens — is not worthy of being changed even though the people of Libya are calling for an end to Gaddafi rule? It just does not make sense to me.

The African Union (AU) has fared no better. It has been incoherent about the situation in Libya. The AU has issued statements only to chop, change and partially withdraw the same later. It’s most recent statement on Libya — issued March 23 — sheds no more light than previous jumbled statements. The statement alludes to an AU “peaceful solution road map”, whose terms have been accepted by, among others, the Gaddafi regime. But the details of such a road map remain sketchy. The road map also appears to be a parallel effort to those of the UN, Nato and coalition forces. A lot of hope is pinned on a meeting scheduled for Friday, March 25 — a meeting to be headed by the AU High-Level Ad Hoc Committee on Libya. But here is part of the problem: at least two of the African leaders belatedly and opportunistically condemning the coalition forces – Zuma and Yoweri Museveni — are members of the AU’s High-Level Ad Hoc Committee created specifically to address the Libyan crisis. Robert Mugabe has also joined them in condemning the countries participating in the air strikes.

We have seen the same three-point turn coming from Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League. In a recent quote he accused the coalition forces of doing something different to what the UN resolution intended. It must be remembered that it was the Arab League which made it possible for the UN Security Council to take the resolution in the first place — by expressing agreement with the notion of a no-fly zone prior to the resolution being taken. This was the “regional clearance” needed by the UN, Nato and countries now mounting attacks on Libya. Indeed, this regional clearance is the reason China and Russia, though clearly not in favour of the no-fly zone resolution, did nevertheless not veto the resolution. This is very significant. It is not so much the countries which voted in favour of the no-fly zone resolution who brought us where we are today but rather the conscious choices of both Russia and China not to interfere.

Several things are going on here. First, there is the question of the geopolitical and strategic significance of a post-Gaddafi Libya — especially as there is no guarantee that any of the other non-democratic leaders will last for long. A post-Gaddafi Libya might become an important power broker in the rapidly changing Arab world and in the Middle East itself. Clearly, the shape and form of a post-Gaddafi Libya cannot be left to chance — hence the flurry of actions and statements.

Second, there is the small matter of the oil fields and oil reserves of Libya. Each participant in this conflict has designs on Libyan oil after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. All sides involved are interested in Libya’s oil. If we do not understand this, we shall not understand the unspoken rationale of the UN resolution, the abstentions of Russia and China, the eagerness of the coalition forces and the seeming change of mind from the likes of Zuma and Moussa. We must remember that as recently as two months ago all of these countries and their leaders — including those now mounting the air strikes and including the UN, were friends of Gaddafi and the Gaddafi regime.

Third, what about the people, the so-called civilians of Libya? The formal and official reason for the no-fly zone is the protection of innocent civilian lives. This is understandable in the wake of a brutal war being waged by Gaddafi against his own people. It would be a shame if the world was to stand aside and watch Gaddafi kill a defenceless and poorly organised people. It is notable that all sides invoke this rationale both in support of and in disagreement with the air strikes. It is important for the world to hold the UN, Nato and coalition forces to the letter and spirit of the UN resolution — ensuring that all is done to protect the lives of civilians.

The protection of civilians must not become a secondary aim in this campaign. If Nato and the coalition forces do not avoid and prevent the loss of civilian lives in and through this operation, they will look no different from Gaddafi. Simply put; killing civilians is no way of protecting civilians. It has been said — apparently by former US senator Hiram Warren Johnson — that the first casualty of war is the truth. Veteran and dissident journalist John Pilger disagrees. He says the first casualty of war is journalism.

I disagree with both. The first casualty of war is the innocent civilian. It is not only the civilian who gets killed, who is a casualty, it is the civilian who is the target of a deluge of propaganda statements. The civilian who is terrorised and traumatised is the first casualty of war. The civilian who is paying for the war now — in sweat, blood and tears — and who will pay even more in the future, is the real casualty of war. The civilians from all over the world who watch “wars” on TV and wrongly believe that they are innocent, are also causalities of war. But the innocent civilian is more than a casualty, she is the truth of which Senator Johnson spoke.


  • Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination with ideas, a passion for justice, a crazy imagination as well as a big appetite for music, reading and writing. He has lectured briefly at such universities as Hamburg in Germany, Lausanne in Switzerland, University of Nairobi in Kenya and Lund University in Sweden - amongst others.


Tinyiko Sam Maluleke

Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination...

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