Libya: NATO involvement should be largely blamed on South Africa.

The execution of Gaddafi by his opponents assisted by Nato, has sparked a lot of commentary by both the civil society and political  leaders, expressing discomfort at the West’s imperialistic objectives in Libya. Most of these views dwell on the notion that the West is more interested in oil than promoting democracy in that country and appeal to morals in condemning Nato. However, the offensive realist  perspective of HST suggests that , in pursuit of  national interests, power-challenged states would  exert themselves as global hegemons.  These states would create and maintain a system that serves their national interest through coercion. A topic for another day, In light of the emergence of China as the international economic power house- challenging the West in the new scramble for African resources, it is not surprising that NATO had to resort barbaric means to safeguard its oil interest in Libya.

In general, the realists believe that that every actor in the system pursues own national interest, regardless of morals and detrimental effects on others. In that light, the wide spread morally- informed commentary on Libya by the African civil society and political leaders is meaningless, as long as it does not provide a way-forward. This notion is best captured in the Melian Dialogue detailing the negotiations between the Athenian empire and the little island of Melos:  “The strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they are forced to accept”. However, judging by the international outcry on the execution of Gaddafi,it seems Africans are not willing to accept the realist perspective of the events in Libya.  As a first step  towards  finding solutions to the current  situation in Libya and Africa, one would suggest that Africans need to acknowledge the internal factors that provided fertile grounds for the West’s military involvement in the continent. By abandoning the African renaissance cause, South Africa failed the continent and exposed Libya to the West.

The liberal perspective of HST suggests that for any system to function at its optimal level, there needs to be a strong leader with political, economic and military capabilities to provide direction for the region. Within the African context, South Africa is relatively endowed with all the attributes of a hegemon and had been acting accordingly during the Mbeki era. At that time, South Africa championed the African renaissance agenda, through amongst other means: the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the African Peer Review Mechanism.  While these measures, to some extent, succeeded in promoting good governance and putting the continent into the global map, they have limitations. Some African leaders, including the late Gaddafi himself, had no respect of these institutions and are resisting to pool sovereignty into the AU.  One other striking feature of South Africa’s continental hegemonic status during the previous regime is that, despite the pressure from both the continental and international community and in line with African renaissance agenda, it managed to block the UN Security Council (UNSC) imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe.  However, the recent move by the current regime voting in favour of the UNSC intervention in Libya and the much reported crisis within the country’s ruling party, suggest a draw-back on African renaissance agenda and a declining hegemonic status on part of South Africa.

Domestically, the liberal HST suggests that the hegemon should be an economic and politically stable country that upholds democratic  principles. South Africa relatively meets these requirements, however, the power struggles, political crisis and a not so firm leadership within the African National Congress (ANC), suggests that South Africa nolonger befits the hegemon crown. While the ANCYL seems to be popular with the poor and the young, it is at odds with the country’s leadership. The recent “economic freedom” marches by the ANCYL league are one case depicting power struggles between the ruling party and its youth wing. The calls for nationalization and land expropriation by the ANCYL could have devastating effects on the country’s economy and challenges the liberal principles of the ANC. At the centre of these developments in the country’s political economy, is the questionable leadership quality of the current regime. The incumbent President is viewed as indecisive and lacking diplomacy on matters pertaining to the ANC’s internal squabbles and the country’s  governance. These few cases of uncertainty in the hegemon’s domestic politics have spillover effects into the continent.

Since the exit of the African visionary –Mbeki, from the continent’s hegemon’s politics, there has been a deafening lull in African renaissance discourse by the current South African regime. There has been a noticeable dwindling hegemonic status and inconsistencies in the country’s foreign policy in the continent. By voting for the UN intervention in Libya, South Africa sold out on African renaissance agenda. There is no doubt that this move triggers the fears expressed by some regional leaders when the democratic South Africa emerged as the global player during the Mandela regime. Some African leaders including Mugabe, and the late Gaddafi were wary of South Africa, and saw it  as an agent of neo-colonialism in the continent. However, the Mbeki regime allayed these  fears by focusing on the African renaissance agenda. When the continent was beginning to thrive towards the African national interest, the hegemon abandoned the vision of the Africanist and welcomed military involvement in the continent.

Certainly, South Africa has failed to maintain its hegemonic status in the region. In light of the country’s abandoning of the African renaissance agenda, one cannot confidently opine that political leaders will ever entrust South Africa with matters relating to continental politico-economic development.  A topic for another day, it would seem then that the African Union and the general regional civil society hold the key towards.

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