Secular and military JK right envoy to Libya

06Feb 2016
Ani Jozen
The Guardian
Secular and military JK right envoy to Libya

RETIRED president Jakaya Kikwete has a job in his hands, as full as it could possibly be, given his energetic, even enthusiastic devotion to African and world affairs.

The smoldering Libyan Jamahiriyyah is the last place on earth at the moment that anyone would look for a job, and one seeks to figure out if JK shall be resident envoy at Hell's Cities or shall be visiting there from time to time. Yet he is preeminently qualified for the job, not only in his 10 years as top government envoy and then as president, but as ex-army security chief. It is also likely to be of some use to the former president turned peace envoy in battle hardened Libya that he was acquainted with the fallen Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi, often a sort of leader to other African heads of state. In much better times he would have received a massive welcome in Libya as a friend, not just from Tanzania's regular affinities with liberation movements but also given the country's now chaotic ‘red-green' credentials. JK is secular and hedonist, not some star-gazing wise man like Gambia's Yahya Jammeh. Whether or not the veteran diplomat on the African scene, occupying top slot in that field since 1995 will be able to achieve anything in his new assignment is a hypothetical issue, where an excellent precedent is available. It is whether current foreign minister Dr Augustine Mahiga achieved anything substantial in an equally lawless Somali situation, but the fact is that the comparison is negative in relation to the potential in Libya. Political representation has in the past decade tussled with guerrilla war in the Somali context, not in Libya. In the latter context the manner in which the country was torn apart was more radical than in Somalia, as in the latter case it is the military groups that had no framework of working together, while political groups jockey but tend to cooperate. The big deal in the Somali political context is frequent clashes between presidential and prime ministerial authorities. It often ends in replacing the premier, unlike the South Sudanese clash of the president and vice-president. The Libyan situation is characterised by its more fragmented civil society, while in Somalia it is a case of civil society being submerged by a militarised union of religious magistrates. While in the case of Libya contending factions fail to dislodge one another to control the whole territory, there is a different setting in Somalia, where guerrillas battle to displace rather secular civilian authority when it tries to constitute itself, or via diplomacy. Regional and global powers will not stand militarised religion taking charge in Somalia. That is precisely what the retired president is tasked with explaining and even preaching to the various groups in Libya, who have various approximations with Al Shabaab sort of extremism. There are incomprehensible disputes as to loyalty to Al Qaeda or to Islamic State, a more radical version of the world famous suicide mission organisation founded by Osama bin Laden at the time of ejecting the Soviets from Afghanistan, hence with vast US assistance.With the Soviets gone, guerrilla zealots turned their guns upon the United States, The question thus remains if Dr Mahiga achieved something in Somalia, and ipso facto, if JK also stands to achieve something similar, perhaps in a similar time frame. Experience shows however that the resilience capacity for violence is limited, for instance in the state of Palestine the West Bank zone opted for peace with Israel of whatever nature, while the Gaza Strip is engulfed in perpetual war. Militants seek to sap Israeli capacity to absorb war. Elsewhere in the region, chances are that militant groups may settle for a peace accord of sorts, depending on the wider situation. Algeria experienced bitter civil war after the army, in like manner as in Egypt but precociously, intervened to prevent a Shariah take over. A pro-shariah party clearly polls for Parliament in 1992, precisely 30 years after violently acquiring independence from France, igniting a new civil war that would last another seven year span or so. There was something of a popular secular and democratic revolution that was thwarted by the late Col. Gaddafi in Libya, an uprising centred in Benghazi, the main city to the east of the capital, whose quashing gave rise to Al Qaeda militants seeking to overthrow the state. It is the western part that seems to be making efforts to maintain civilian and secular authorities versus extremism. One wonders what an envoy is tasked to do in that situation, where it is the battlefield that appears to decide the course of politics and not the latter that would set the course for ending the military side of the conflict. Diplomacy is really about how politics ends the war, whereas in actual fact it is the outcome of the war that determines the political outcome, in which case diplomacy is a question of how the political options shape the military process. Diplomats work to silence the guns, but those holding guns focus on achieving pivotal position. What makes the work of a peace envoy a priori feasible is that all contending groups will finally seek political accommodation. In the case of Libya those prospects are diminished somewhat by the fact that the largely civilian uprising against Col. Gaddafi was rapidly replaced by militancy that saw a solution in shariah, first on Al Qaeda basis and then slowly drifting to loyalty for Islamic State. Many find it hard to identify the differences but at times the contrasts are stark and vivid in that Islamic State exhibits total intolerance. As in the case of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the key issues that people need to see resolved revolve around a representative state where all sections of the population are assured of rights and equitable treatment. not onerous privileges for a part of the state as with Col. Gaddafi. It is rather unclear if there is a section of the violence that seeks to protect the Gaddafi status quo ante, though the chances there are severely limited. Humiliation on the part of Gaddafi and his family would strike a major blow for regrouping. In that case the contention in Libya is one that pits secular change with a dose of Islamic legislation as under Gaddafi, merely ending privileges for his clan and family, against total ‘renewal' on the basis of the shariah. The loyalty for Al Qaeda and Islamic State is obfuscated by the fact that even before that Islamic State came into view, metamorphosis within Al Qaeda ensured that Osama bin Laden's strategy was being ignored. He was tasking Al Shabaab leader Abu Zubeir to reduce exactions upon the population, lessen harsh shariah laws. It is largely on this framework that the former president may also seek to work, where the militant groups accept a representative format where it is an assembly, not an armed organisation or purely judicial instance tied to shariah making decisions. It is patience until war wears the groups, to accept peace.