Those within the peace and justice movement seeking an end to NATO’s illegal bombing of Libya must also be careful not to extend misplaced support for dictators, writes Horace Campbell.
On 26 June 2011 there was a community meeting in our home town of Syracuse to oppose the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) bombing of Libya. This meeting was the last stop of the Eyewitness Libya tour featuring Cynthia McKinney. McKinney, (former US congresswoman from Georgia and presidential candidate for the Green Party) was on a tour of the United States to draw attention to the illegal bombing of NATO in Libya and the terror being unleashed against innocent people in the name of protecting civilians. The other speakers at this community event were Akbar Mohammed of the Nation of Islam and Derek Ford, a local organiser for Answer. Answer is one faction of the US peace and justice movement that has been opposed to US militarism, organising under the banner of ‘Act now to end war and oppose racism’. The event to oppose the NATO bombing was held at the Alibrandi Center of Syracuse University and co-sponsored by the Pan African Community of Central New York (PACCNY).
The meeting represented a missed opportunity. While the platform opposed the NATO bombing in Libya, there was a lack of clarity on what the meeting stood for, especially in relation to the equivocation of Cynthia McKinney over the character of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. In the face of the reality where there is no moral or political support in the world for the present NATO bombing, the peace and justice movement must be clear about not only what they are against, but what they are for. It is up to the peace movement to clarify the paths to peace and to push for an end to the military campaign of the West. The West has lost credibility with the stalemate after more than 100 days of bombing. It is now clear that there is no military solution and only the African Union roadmap for a ceasefire provides a framework for an end to the illegal bombing.
It is important here to restate the principal components of the roadmap of the African Union.
The roadmap was a five-point plan, demanding the following:
- a ceasefire
- the protection of civilians
- the provision of humanitarian aid for Libyans and foreign workers in the country
- dialogue between the two sides, vis-à-vis the Gaddafi regime and the Transitional National Council, leading to an ‘inclusive transitional period’
- political reforms which ‘meet the aspirations of the Libyan people’.
Currently, Russia, China, Turkey, India, the Caribbean community (CARICOM) and even members of NATO are supporting the African Union plan for a ceasefire, and after the meeting of the African Union last week, sections of the National Transitional Council tepidly accepted the mediation of the AU with South Africa, Congo, Mali, Uganda and Mauritania as representatives of the African Union.
THE PEACE MOVEMENT MUST BE INFORMED ON AFRICA
A clear position on the need to oppose the NATO bombing and to oppose the Gaddafi regime came from the Pan African Community of Central New York (PACCNY) president Hdayatu Salawu. Dr Salawu succinctly stated her position on behalf of PACCNY, and was consistent with the overarching position of the organisation in opposing imperialism and opposing African dictators.
The next speaker, Akbar Mohammed, spoke at length defending past dictators such as Idi Amin Dada of Uganda. In an attempt to point out how the popular opinion on political leaders and events is shaped by the corporate media in the West, Akbar Mohammed used the vilification of Idi Amin Dada as an example of how the West shaped popular opinion on African leaders.
This was a very bad example indeed; one did not need the West to shape popular opinion on Idi Amin. After eight years in power (1971–79), Idi Amin had massacred over 300,000 Ugandans. Akbar Mohammed went further to exaggerate the support of Idi Amin in Uganda by saying to the audience that over a million persons turned out in Uganda for his funeral after he passed away in Saudi Arabia. The amount of detail on Uganda and Idi Amin made in the presentation by Akbar would have led anyone listening to think that this was an event about the rehabilitation of Idi Amin and not about the illegal bombing of Libya by NATO.
Akbar as a national leader of the Nation of Islam did not have his information correct because Idi Amin passed away and his body was not returned to Uganda. Hence, even the small points that Akbar Mohammed wanted to make about the resources of Libya – water and oil – were lost by his uncritical support for leaders such as Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, Laurent Gbagbo and Muammar Gaddafi. These leaders can be called anti-imperialist but peace and justice forces must be nuanced enough to be anti-imperialist and oppose dictators at the same time. Anti-imperialism and opposition to anti-imperial dictators, in support for the people’s aspirations, are not mutually exclusive.
Because of the length of the presentation by Akbar Mohammed, the time spent by Cynthia McKinney to present her Eyewitness report to the bombing was limited and taken up by video clips of the impact of the bombing. While telling the truth about the devastation of the bombing, Cynthia McKinney missed an opportunity to educate the audience on the contradictions in Libyan society.
SPEAKING OUT CLEARLY AGAINST AFRICAN DICTATORS
It devolved to a long-time revolutionary from Kenya in the audience, Dr Micere Githae Mugo, to clarify to Cynthia McKinney and Akbar Mohammed that those who were mobilising against imperial interventions had to be courageous and speak out against African dictators at the same time. Drawing from her own experiences as a freedom fighter in Kenya against the Moi dictatorship, Dr Mugo pointed to the fact that one must also recognise the democratic struggles against dictators in Africa. She wanted Cynthia McKinney to explain how a leader could justify being in power for 42 years. Her clarity pointed to the reality that while progressives cannot oppose Mugabe and Gaddafi from the same platform as those of settlers and imperialists, they must nonetheless be opposing dictatorship because they have turned the principles of freedom and liberation against the people. She pointed to the fact that while Mugabe and the ZANU-PF leadership started out as freedom fighters, their present level of accumulation and disregard for the people have removed them from the ranks of progressives. Howie Hawkins, the local activist from the Green Party, queried why Cynthia McKinney did not support the roadmap of the African Union.
The political changes in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired the peoples of Africa and the Middle East to rise up against dictatorships. These uprisings threaten the future of Western imperialism, especially in areas where there are fossil fuel deposits such as Libya. The efforts to manipulate international instruments such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to serve the interests of Western oil companies cannot halt the present drive for social justice. The arrest warrant of the International Criminal Court for Gaddafi and his sons carries no influence as long as the West continues to be partial in deciding who are war criminals.
The capitalist depression and the increased exploitation of working peoples in Europe and North America ensure that the masses of the people cannot be persuaded easily to support military adventures while there are millions out of work and the people are being called on to make sacrifices.
THE CREDIBILITY OF NATO AND THE US AFRICA COMMAND
When the British, French and US pushed through Resolution 1973 through the Security Council of the UN with the mandate to protect civilians, the Western leaders had promised their populations that within days, the political map of Libya would change. The very same forces that had been supported by the billions of dollars from Libya now turned against Muammar Gaddafi. Now, in the face of the resistance of the Libyan people, it is clearer that the bombing of Libya will not bring a quick military solution. If anything, the bombing has qualitatively changed the political calculus to unleash more sympathy for Gaddafi in the face of the indiscriminate NATO bombing.
The head of the Arab League has reversed its support for the NATO exercise and now the bombing is with moribund political, military or moral support. Even within the US military, it is now clearer that the prestige and influence of the US military is diminished with every day that the NATO bombing continues. What started out as a public relations exercise for the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) is turning into a propaganda nightmare as citizens do not want to be associated with the bombing and killing of innocent civilians in Tripoli. There is little support for the bombing in the Congress of the United States and the Obama administration presents contradictory reasons for its continued involvement in this illegal bombing. The debate over the War Powers Act has revealed a deeper problem for the military and financial establishment. This is the reality that the citizens will not continue to support expenditures on wars to support oil companies while there is economic austerity at home. Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic representative from Ohio in Congress, has been an outspoken opponent of the bombing, and has been explicit in calling on Congress to cut off funds for the Libyan operation. In one broadside he noted:
‘The US Congress must act to cut off funds for the war because there is no military solution in Libya. Serious negotiations for a political solution must begin to end the violence and create an environment for peace negotiations to fulfill the legitimate, democratic aspirations of the people. A political solution will become viable when the opposition understands that regime change is the privilege of the Libyan people, not of NATO.’
This clear position is only limited by the fact that Kucinich stopped short of supporting the African Union roadmap.
LESSONS FROM THE REMOVAL OF IDI AMIN
As the war continues, both NATO and sections of the financial–oil–military oligarchy become desperate and this desperation is now manifesting itself in the supply of weapons to the Transitional National Council by France. Jean Ping of the African Union correctly noted that France's decision to supply arms to the Libyan rebels was ‘dangerous and compromises the security of the whole region’. He called it the Somaliaisation of the region.
This observation is cogent in so far as the West continues to be shocked by the tenacity of the revolutionary forces in Egypt and so want to have a foothold next door in order to be ready to intervene against the consolidation of the transformations in Egypt and Tunisia. This fact along with the oil deposits in Libya will continue to prompt the oil companies to plan for a military presence in North Africa.
However, there is no military solution. A long-term political solution to the past undemocratic rule will not come overnight. Africa learnt this fact the hard way after the Tanzanian army intervened militarily to remove the Idi Amin regime in Uganda in 1979. After the removal of Idi Amin, the political immaturity of the Ugandan forces led to years of instability and war. Akbar Mohammed of the Nation of Islam did not realise that by using Idi Amin as his example of an anti-imperialist leader, he was reminding people that it was the same Gaddafi who sent troops and aircraft to support the murderous Idi Amin regime in Uganda.
The future of Libya as a peaceful country requires an end to the bombing and the end of the Gaddafi regime. The Libyan situation demands that the peace and justice movement be critical and nuanced enough to not only oppose all forms of imperialism in Africa but to also fight against the Africanisation of imperialism and oppression by African dictators. Leaders in societies such as Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon and Uganda – among others – are watching to see if brute force can stop the tide of change. The tide is irreversible and as the capitalist crisis deepens there will be more rebellions.
Now that Gaddafi himself has accepted the terms of the African Union roadmap, including the provision that he stand aside in order to bring about a ceasefire, the peace and justice movement in the US must support the African Union so that the United Nations will be pressured to end the mandate of NATO and end the illegal bombing of the people of Libya.
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* Horace Campbell is professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’. See www.horacecampbell.net.
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