NATO's military intervention in Libya (a word in Classical Greece which was used to denote the whole of Africa), is seen by many Africans as an impediment to the development of regional response mechanisms and institutions like the African Union, a setback in intercontinental trust and an effort of neo-colonialism.
"We strongly believe that the resolution is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation." said South African President Jacob Zuma who recently visited Libya on behalf of the African Union. He also criticised NATO for a "misuse of good intentions".
An Open Letter criticising NATO for "The re-colonisation of Africa " was signed on August 9 by over 200 prominent Africans, including ANC national executive member Jesse Duarte, political analyst Willie Esterhuyse of the University of Stellenbosch, former SA intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, lawyer Christine Qunta, former SA deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad, former minister in the presidency Essop Pahad, Sam Moyo of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, former SA president Thabo Mbeki's spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga, and poet Wally Serote.
Africa's violent and recent colonial past means that foreign involvement must be handled delicately. The military and political involvement of foreign powers in the oil rich Libyan state, the Western aided deposing of a vilified ruler, and the installation of a Western endorsed National Transition Council all mean that NATO's operations have as many sceptics and followers in Africa.
NATO's air strikes in Libya are seen as proof to other African states, that powerful countries have carte blanche to commit acts of war on less powerful countries, to intervene in whatever ways they see fit, change regimes they deem unfavourable, to oust leaders they do not approve, to cause massive casualties of civilians, to establish new governments favourable to western ideals thereby promoting western ideology.
Powerful countries possess the right, might and daring to establish new world orders; and to colonise for perceived economic reasons. The political and militaristic involvement of Britain and France, old African colonial powers -are perceived by many as nothing new at all.
In the 19th Century, the British Empire's official colonial motive was to spread Commerce, Christianity and Civilization to the colonies in the Dark Continent of Africa. European interventionism was thought to be for the good of Africans who needed European enlightenment and salvation from their own 'despotic' rulers. The actual colonial enterprise resulted in the loss of millions of African lives, the occupation of land, and the looting of natural resources.
In collective African memory, it was with similar humanitarian motives that British colonial forces attacked Ebrohimi and Benin City, in what is now Nigeria, in 1894 and 1897 respectively. The African rulers Chief Nana of Ebrohimi and King Ovonranmwen of Benin City were accused of disrupting commercial activities, of terrorizing their own people, of engaging in the inhuman slave trade, and of practising human sacrifice.
The leaders were and deposed and exiled. The wars were defrayed by the sale of looted art and treasure found in Benin. Benin City and Ebrohimi became part of the Oil Rivers Colony and a Native Council that secured British interests was established. The cities never recovered from the destruction or the massive loss of civilian life.
Current historians however view the African leaders' real offences, as their monopoly of the regional oil trade, their influence and their opposition to the British control of trade in the region. Chief Nana controlled the palm oil trade in the Niger Delta. King Ovonramwen had recently placed an oil palm embargo on British traders and their middlemen. It is with the collective memory of economically driven European led interventions like these, the abundance of European raw material extraction companies, that many Africans view the Libyan situation with suspicion.
The Open Letter states that NATO's "objectives are completely at variance with the decisions of the UN Security Council," If NATO interventionism was purely humanitarian , then why were there no such interventions during the Rwandan genocide or the mass killings in Sudan which resulted in millions of deaths, they ask.
Despite these allegations of regime change and neo-colonialism brought against NATO, what is clear is clear is the African Union's feeling of being sidelined by the decision-making institutions of the international community. It is precisely this sentiment of political inequality that must be addressed if NATO is to garner genuine support of the AU.
To quote the Open Letter, "As Africans we have predicated our future as relevant players in an equitable system of international relations on the expectation that the United Nations would indeed serve 'as the foundation of a new world order.'"
They feel that power relations between European and African organizations needs to be bought into the 21st Century through equal dialogue on the platform of the UN. To refute these allegations brought against it, NATO would do well in the weeks that follow to emphasize a policy of open dialogue. Dialogue with' and not 'for' Libyans, and Africans is vital as a means to find lasting solutions to the civil war , to rebuild Libya's infrastructure, and to heal a fractured African trust.