AL-QADHAFI’S AFRICAN UNION: OBSTACLES TO SUCCESS, OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENGAGEMENT
9:38PM GMT 31 Jan 2011
Ref ID: 09TRIPOLI134
Date: 2/11/2009 10:39
Origin: Embassy Tripoli
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TRIPOLI 000134 SIPDIS DEPT FOR NEA/MAG; AFRICOM FOR POLAD E.O. 12958: DECL: 2/9/2019 TAGS: PREL, PROP, AU-1, SU, LI, LY SUBJECT: AL-QADHAFI’S AFRICAN UNION: OBSTACLES TO SUCCESS, OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENGAGEMENT REF: A. A. TRIPOLI 70 B. B. 08 FREETOWN 604 C. C. MONROVIA 13 D. D. TRIPOLI 37 E. E. 08 TRIPOLI 567 F. F. 08 TRIPOLI 61 G. G. USUN 105 TRIPOLI 00000134 001.2 OF 003 CLASSIFIED BY: John T. Godfrey, PolEcon Chief. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(C) Summary: Muammar al-Qadhafi’s election as Chairman of the African Union represents the culmination of a decade’s worth of work by the regime and a significant personal victory for the Leader. After moving on from his dream of pan-Arab leadership, al-Qadhafi funneled billions of dollars into cultivating relationships in sub-Saharan Africa that would facilitate his leadership of the African Union. This year is the 40th anniversary of his rise to power and the 10th since the proclamation in his hometown of Sirte that led to the African Union. The GOL lacks the human and institutional capacity to successfully manage a concerted effort to unify Africa, an effort that most other African leaders oppose in any event. More vexing for ordinary Libyans is that al-Qadhafi’s ambitious Africa policy – a common army, a common currency, and a common passport – seems to represent another foreign policy adventure that is long on spectacle and short on feasibility, but which is likely to divert more financial resources away from improving their lot. The fact that al-Qadhafi’s election coincides with slumping oil prices and an attendant re-calibration of the national budget (to include ratcheting back popular infrastructure development initiatives) makes the tension between domestic and foreign policy equities an even bigger problem for the regime. Despite African leaders’ reservations about having an AU Chair who attained office at the point of a rifle rather than through a ballot box, al-Qadhafi may be a useful partner in promoting peace and stability in areas of the continent in which Libya has direct equities. Nonetheless, controlling his heavy-handed (and deep-pocketed) tactics will likely make productive engagement on other issues of concern difficult. End Summary. “THE KING OF KINGS” ENTERS THE SCENE …
2.(C) Cast as an attempt to frame him as the popular choice of ordinary Africans, al-Qadhafi’s flashy entrance to the AU Summit with a retinue of tribal kings shortly before his election as the AU chairman on February 2 did little to dispel the perception that he sees the AU as a bully pulpit. Media reports of the closed-door session in which he was tapped suggest that despite assurances of support from Maghreb and Sahel neighbors (ref A), he was hardly the consensus pick by his fellow AU heads of state. Al-Qadhafi’s acceptance speech, in which he said that Africa remained predominantly tribal and therefore ill-suited to multi-party democracy, did little to assuage concern that the AU had chosen a dictator as its chairman during a period in which it has endeavored to promote democratic governance.
A DECADE IN THE MAKING
3.(C) After more than a decade of work, Muammar al-Qadhafi’s election as Chairman of the African Union for 2009 represents a significant political victory for the regime and a personal victory for him. Installing himself as Africa’s leader has been a personal preoccupation of the leader, driven in part by his vision of a united African government (that he presumably would lead). In addition, September marks not only the 10th anniversary of the Sirte Proclamation, but also the 40th anniversary of the bloodless military coup that brought al-Qadhafi to power. With a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a possible UN General Assembly Presidency for Ali Treiki (Libya’s senior Africa hand), and the AU chairmanship, Libya has a number of high profile fora in which to trumpet al-Qadhafi’s importance on the world stage and the (ostensible) success of the Jamahiriya system of which he is the author. That is particularly important in light of current questions in Libya about political-economic reform and potential succession scenarios.
4.(C) Al-Qadhafi’s shift from pan-Arabism (he started life as an ardent Nasserite) to pan-Africanism came into full flower during his years of sanctions-imposed isolation (1992-2003). Firmly believing himself to be a “man of history”, al-Qadhafi initially hoped to unite the Arab world; however, angered by Arab leaders’ relative indifference to Libya’s plight under international sanctions and heartened by the extent to which sub-Saharan African countries were willing to continue relations TRIPOLI 00000134 002.2 OF 003 (usually in exchange for patronage), his focus shifted from the east to the south. Al-Qadhafi has devoted substantial resources – monetary and diplomatic – to Africa since the late 1990s. The Sirte Proclamation of September 9, 1999, in which Organization of African Union heads of state committed to forming what became the African Union, was seen by the regime as the foundation of a new and larger sphere of influence that could eventually lead to al-Qadhafi’s leadership of a unified African continent. A domestic propaganda campaign designed to represent Libya as an African state was also undertaken: billboards and larger-than-life murals depict al-Qadhafi emerging, Messiah-like, from a glowing green Libya into an embracing African continent. Al-Qadhafi’s personal designers (he employs two full-time) have incorporated the continent’s shape into all types of clothing (favorites include a large green Africa-shaped brooch on a white double-breasted blazer, a pseudo-camouflaged tunic comprised of Africa-shaped patterns and a jersey emblazoned with pictures of prominent African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah).
WHAT PRICE AFRICA?
5.(C) While Libya’s campaign for the AU chairmanship has been years in the making, its “dinar diplomacy” accelerated in 2008 and expanded to include non-state actors like traditional African tribal leaders. In August 2008, some 200 sub-Saharan tribal kings crowned al-Qadhafi “king of kings” at the Revolution Day celebration and bestowed on him a crown and scepter. (Note: Diplomatic observers at the event noted the similarity of the kings’ crowns, prompting speculation that the GOL provided visiting dignitaries with their accoutrement. End note.) Al-Qadhafi’s trip through west Africa in the run-up to the AU Summit in Addis Ababa provided an opportunity to drum up support for his chairmanship, and to remind fence-sitters that ” … saying no to Qadhafi creates a new enemy” (ref B). A series of Libyan investments in Liberia valued at $45 million was announced on February 8, prompting speculation about what may have been behind President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s public (albeit seemingly unenthusiastic) announcement in Addis Ababa that she had “accepted” al-Qadhafi’s chairmanship. Speculation in Tripoli’s diplomatic circles has focused on how much Libya paid and to whom to ensure al-Qadhafi’s election; the timing and tone of his recent visits to sub-Saharan Africa seem to have been more than coincidental (ref C).
WHAT MIGHT IT MEAN?
6.(C) If history and Libya’s relationships with the West are any guide, al-Qadhafi’s chairmanship is likely to be long on rhetoric and grand gestures, but short on deliverables and implementation. There will almost certainly be further public statements decrying imperialism and calling on western powers to leave the continent alone (he has already defended Somali pirates, saying they were acting in part to protect Somalia against foreign intervention). Despite pleas for non-interference, the GOL’s potential to increase its sphere of influence is limited by its human and bureaucratic capacity. Already stretched thin by its UNSC seat, internal political and economic reforms, and efforts to mark the 40th anniversary of al-Qadhafi’s rule, the GOL is ill-equipped to actively promote and implement a unified African government. Just 24 hours after his installation as chairman, hopes for fast-track unification were dashed when negotiations on the African Authority’s mandate fell apart with al-Qadhafi walking out at two a.m., reportedly in connection with Ugandan President Museveni’s having taken issue with al-Qadhafi’s use of traditional tribal leaders in an attempt to end-run the authority of sovereign states (ref D).
TENSION BETWEEN FOREIGN POLICY ADVENTURISM & DOMESTIC REALITIES
7.(C) Al-Qadhafi’s stated goals for Africa – a common army, currency, and passport – are at odds with some of Libya’s domestic interests and stand to complicate relations with EU member states, with which it is engaged in Libya-EU Framework negotiations (ref E). Libya’s largesse in the continent depends on a relatively stable currency backed by oil exports. Moving to the Afro – al-Qadhafi’s proposed name for a unified continental currency – would saddle the Libyan economy with debts and inflationary pressures of countries bereft of the mineral wealth and massive foreign trade surpluses Libya enjoys. Such an initiative would be particularly unpopular and impractical, particularly at a time when slumping oil prices TRIPOLI 00000134 003.2 OF 003 have prompted the GOL to re-calibrate its own national budget. A common passport and customs zone also pose political and diplomatic challenges. Despite al-Qadhafi’s fascination with Africa, the majority of Libyans self-identify as Arabs. (Comment: Interestingly, despite al-Qadhafi’s pan-Arab vision, the GOL has continued to insist that Libya is homogeneously Arab, most recently in a demarche last spring denying that a Berber minority existed in Libya and denying permission for Emboffs to visit a predominantly Berber town. End comment.) A single passport would be ruinous for Libya’s efforts to ease visa restrictions for Libyans traveling to Europe. Europeans, sensitive to the fact that tens of thousands of illegal migrants who make landfall in Europe each year depart from Libyan shores, will bristle at the potential for still greater numbers of sub-Saharan Africans to travel more easily to jumping-off points along Libya’s littoral.
WELCOME HOME CEREMONY FOR THE KING OF KINGS
8.) At a February 10 mass “welcome home” ceremony in a huge tent at his compound, attended by the traditional African tribal kings, the diplomatic corps (command performance), GOL officials, and other citizens, Qadhafi “humbly” accepted his new title and reviewed the myriad of problems facing the continent, including those in Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia and some issues which to a great extent (in his view) are the legacy of colonialism such as “illegal” migration and the “bad” treatment of Africans in Europe. He hit the Italians hard on their colonial practices but said he looked forward to working with the new Obama administration to bring about significant change. Qadhafi said Libya would have several channels to work for solution of problems including his newly-assumed one, the UNSC and the UN General Assembly. Qadhafi noted the significant “African” populations of some countries in the Caribbean and South America asserting they should also find a way to join the new united Africa.
9.(C) Comment: While al-Qadhafi’s tenure as AU chairman will doubtless feature flamboyant costumes and equally colorful statements decrying western involvement on the continent, the fact that he needs his chairmanship to be perceived as a success affords a potentially useful lever with which to prompt constructive Libyan engagement on issues of concern. Casting al-Qadhafi as not just the leader of the al-Fateh Revolution and author of the (ostensibly) successful Jamahiriya system, but also as an actor of international stature, is an important part of the regime’s propaganda effort in what is a politically momentous year for the regime. While Libyan officials will dutifully advocate pan-African unity (and some, including al-Qadhafi, may actually believe in it), the real goals are more prosaic and self-serving. Libya will likely continue to engage effectively on issues it perceives to be directly related to its core security interests, including Chad-Sudan, Darfur, mediation with Tuareg leaders in the Sahel and Somalia (which it views as a potential safehaven and portal for Islamic extremists intent on operating in the Sahel). On other issues, al-Qadhafi is likely to take positions that bolster his image as a champion of anti-imperialism and pan-African unity. There are likely to be contradictions between what he says (which is often inflammatory) and what he does (which is typically more driven by realpolitik). U.S. Africa Command, for example, may be able to quietly gain traction in Libya; however, al-Qadhafi will likely continue his public opposition to an expanded role for the command, to include a physical presence, on the continent. When approached with appropriate deference, Libya can be an effective actor – leveraging support and connections on the continent to secure our foreign policy interests as it has done (to an extent) in Chad, Sudan, and Somalia. When rankled, al-Qadhafi will resort to granstanding to stymie our objectives. Allowing Libya to retain symbolic leadership in regional affairs will make participation in multilateral discussions more palatable, as evidenced by Libya’s eventual acquiescence to the Dakar Process. The Libyan system of complex patronage and portfolio distribution based on personality, vice rank, does not translate well to a body representing 53 separate national groups. Given the difficulty of uniting Africans under a Libyan model and the tension between al-Qadhafi’s lofty foreign policy ambitions and his real domestic constraints, it is difficult to see that Libya will go far towards implementing a vision of a unified African government during al-Qadhafi’s tenure as AU chairman. End comment. CRETZ