Tiema Haji Muindi
The African Union has consistently voiced fears about the use of force in Libya by the West, citing the possibility of the country disintegrating into a failed state.
The African elders seated in Addis Ababa, the AU’s headquarters, probably had this African proverb in mind: “What an old man can see while seated, a young man cannot see even when standing”.
They saw it coming.
Ahmed Zubair Senussi, a relative of Libya’s former King, Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi, and some other leaders in the eastern city of Benghazi, declared the semi-autonomy of their historic province of Cyrenaica, in the eastern region, this month.
King Idris Senussi was ousted by Libya’s former ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, in 1969.
This move has raised fears that this could be the start of the country breaking apart, especially when you consider that a provincial council has been created to run the affairs of Cyrenaica.
This is an historic province which runs from the border with Egypt in the east to halfway across Libya’s Mediterranean coast.
The danger is that for a country still in a transitional phase, with its citizens yet to learn the dynamics and challenges of a pluralistic political state, Senussi’s move could generate more crisis, especially if other regions which were Gaddafi’s stronghold decide to do the same.
Advocates of federalism argue that it will prevent the marginalisation of the east, as it was under Gaddafi’s regime, but there are Libyans who fear that the move could make Libya’s reconciliation an impossible task.
As it is now, eastern Libya’s agenda seems suspect. Although they have promised to continue with their recognition of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) as the country’s legitimate representative, this is only as far as foreign affairs issues are concerned.
Their leaders have already decided the perimeters of their semi-autonomous eastern region. They declared that they would run their own government, parliament and administration and would manage their financial affairs, leaving the control of oil revenues, foreign policy and the national army to the NTC.
With the country not being under a federal system, such an arrangement is a recipe for chaos. Already Libya’s NTC has declared this move as illegal, and has even threatened to use force against the eastern region.
The problem is that the NTC has no popular support, and has failed to disarm thousands of fighters who helped to topple Gaddafi. Many of these fighter have joined armed groups which control districts and towns, man illegal road blocks and even operate torture chambers.
With the eastern region’s move, NTC’s bickering coalition and its inability to unite Libyans, it is evident that all is not well in Libya and a peaceful solution is urgently needed.
As things stand now, Libya is facing an imminent implosion that could take it back to where it was from 1951 to 1963, when it was divided into three states – Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan.
Tiema Haji Muindi is a media consultant and a journalism and media studies lecturer at Damelin