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How AU's boycott of London Libya meeting may hurt Africa's interests

The African Union may be frustrated that the Western powers didn't give their Libya mediation efforts a chance, but analysts say the AU's refusal to join today's international meeting in London limits Africa's influence.

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Among the African nations most suspicious of Western motives is South Africa, says Adam Habib, a political scientist and deputy chancellor of the University of Johannesburg.

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South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, once relied on Western human rights groups and diplomatic pressure to help end the racist rule of the apartheid regime, but now it views those same human rights arguments as unwanted interference in their national interests.

“There is a disconnect about Libya and [Ivory Coast],” says Mr. Habib, who personally has argued forcefully for an intervention in Libya on human rights grounds. “It’s about intervention, it’s about how we don’t trust Western intentions, it’s about whether they [Western countries] have a hidden agenda.”

Missed opportunity?

What is unclear is why the AU didn’t take the opportunity of this conference in London to put all these frustrations and suspicions on the table, and to argue forcefully its own alternative viewpoint on how to resolve the crisis in Libya.

While there may be differences within the AU about what specific action should be taken in Libya, its vote to seek a mediated settlement shows that the AU does have its own interests and values to protect. But if it doesn’t show up for such a meeting, ask analysts like Mr. Kornegay, how does it expect the world to act in accordance with those interests and values?

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a joint statement on Monday calling on Qaddafi to step down from power before it was “too late.”

"We call on all Libyans who believe that Qaddafi is leading Libya into a disaster to take the initiative now to organize a transition process," Mr. Cameron and Mr. Sarkozy said in a statement.

Separately, President Obama said Monday night: “It should be clear to those around Qaddafi, and to every Libyan, that history is not on Qaddafi’s side. With the time and space that we have provided for the Libyan people, they will be able to determine their own destiny, and that is how it should be.”

But Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni says the West is applying "double standards" by pushing for a no-fly zone in Libya, but not in other conflict zones.

"We have been appealing to the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Somalia so as to impede the free movement of terrorists, linked to Al Qaeda that killed Americans on September 11th, killed Ugandans last July and have caused so much damage to the Somalis, without success," Mr. Museveni said in a March 20 statement. "Why? Are there no human beings in Somalia similar to the ones in Benghazi? Or is it because Somalia does not have oil which is not fully controlled by the western oil companies on account of Qaddafi's nationalist posture?"

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