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Negotiation, not military intervention, is the best solution for resolving conflict argues Stephen Musau, as the international community’s attempts to quell the unrest in Libya take their toll on innocent civilians.

The events in the conflict-torn Libya and many other countries in North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere – including what is emerging in Uganda – warrant the attention of all peace-loving and development-conscious people, globally. This is especially so with the escalation of the cost of living in many countries, which has – rightly or wrongly – been linked to what is happening in some of the countries facing civil unrest.

As has been highlighted severally, the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was meant to impose a no-fly zone in the Libya to avoid any air attacks and also to protect civilians who were out – and rightly so – to demand change in the governance of their country, after 42 years of rule under President Muammar Gaddafi. This was a rightful expression of the Libyans’ will.

But the events that have happened in the country so far provide impetus for the international community to rethink the position taken on Libya. The support of regional arrangements that were negotiated and developed by the African Union, for instance, need to be humbly and humanely revisited.

The African Union has laid out a four-point formula to end the civil war in Libya. These points were to have an immediate ceasefire by all military actions; continued humanitarian aid to those in need; protection of foreigners, including African expatriates living in Libya; and creation of a necessary political reforms agenda to eliminate the causes of the present crisis. All these points remain valid and relevant. They are attempts towards peace and security, both much desired.

The international community needs to jointly look for new, non-standard ways to settle the chain of conflicts in North Africa, the Middle East – and any other country faced with these challenges – in an impartial manner. The use of force or threats appears not to be best solution and may even render the whole desired international peace and security a mockery of the 21st century.

The expectations that mass-scale people’s unrest in North Africa, the Middle East and other countries could be dealt with by use of arms, force or threats and that order would soon be restored have proved short-lived. Several other cases come to mind, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, where what was anticipated has not been the result so far.

The past weeks have remained tense in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Uganda; tomorrow it might be another country anywhere. Will the international community respond to all these people’s unrests by use of arms, force or threats? What will then be the meaning of democracy, human rights, peace and security internationally? What will be the role and meaning of the UN Charter?

The case of Libya has proved that the West’s military interference in internal conflicts invariably leads to an impasse, with deep divisions of the country’s nationhood. Further, the problem with wars is that it hurts, injures and even kills the unanticipated targets.

The principle of distinction of targets has not helped either. The case of Libya demonstrates that the promise of non-fly zone and protection of the civilian population has been a challenge; the victims are innocent Libyans. It is civilians who suffer most from military operations.

What has also been shocking is that the Libyans who were to be protected as civilians out to fight for democracy have turned out, more often than not, to be well-armed and equipped rebels. The hard questions have been where the rebels have been getting arms, who is arming them and for what course of action?

Secondly, the consequences of arming and supporting rebels to overthrow a government might be a dangerous style of operation, especially in the 21st century, as all states now have a form of opposition. Will the international community therefore just support any kind of opposition to state’s integrity and sovereignty, even without knowing what this opposition stands for in a country?

Coups and countercoups seemed feasible during the Cold War when blame games could ensue; citizenry had alternative views of the politics and therefore ended up supporting rebel interventions. But nowadays, the struggle for people’s rule is based on ideas, open discussions and sharing one’s views on the state one wants to create openly and with the people.

Of course the challenge will always be whether the democratic space in any country is opened enough and in depth for this to happen but this remains the struggle. It therefore calls for dialogue and negotiations with the people in all fronts and sectors, no matter how hard it may be, for where democracy lacks, it is more of a structural problem linked to lack of strong political vehicles, than just the individual in power. This is a hard lesson learnt and African democracy has a long way to do due to overlapping issues including ethnicity, poverty and unemployment.

The case of Libya here comes in handy for the ‘rebels’; the assumed civilians fighting for democracy in Libya are just been coalesced into something being called the Interim Transitional National Council, which ordinary Libyans know little of. If the people know little of this, how then shall they buy in and support this vehicle as a government, unless the international community wants an unstable Libya that will keep on having coups and countercoups?

The emerging calls warning against the use of force that would run counter to the letter and spirit of relevant UN Security Council Resolution 1973 needs international support, as the armed standoff between the supporters and opponents of Muammar Gaddafi is continuing. The calls for a ceasefire need to be heard more than before; all sides must lay down arms and preaching of no war should escalate.

All these calls should be anchored on the UN Charter that prohibits non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, either through acts of aggression, use of force, threats or armed conflict. The world of difference between the imposition of a no-fly zone, protection of civilians and daily air-strikes in civil affairs of any country needs to be made clear, so that the world can see role models in those who preach democracy and human rights.

Lastly, as the armed conflicts escalate, spill-over should be expected economically and politically not only in the countries being involved or targeted in the conflict. The demonstrations on right to food in Nairobi for instance, and the high cost of living being experienced by Kenyans might be some of this spill-over and indicators of the consequences of war.

Although this might as well be heavily connected to climate change, corruption and mismanagement issues, which must take their fair share in the dwindling means of survival for Kenyans, combined with Kenya’s poor governance issues, the consequences of any war are not comfy anywhere in the world. We must all say no to conflicts and war and yes to consciousness, peace and security.

The world must stay human always!


* Stephen Musau is a member of Kenya’s Release Political Prisoners Social Movement (RPP).
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.