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Nigeria clout to rise in post-Qaddafi Africa

Nigeria recognized Libya's rebels yesterday, a move criticized by South Africa as 'jumping the gun' ahead of the African Union's official decision on whether to recognize the fall of key AU donor, Muammar Qaddafi.

By Alex ThurstonGuest blogger / August 24, 2011



On Monday I asked what the fall of Col. Muammar Qaddafi might mean for the Sahel, a question that bears on what his fall means for Africa as a whole.

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This question took on new intensity yesterday as Nigeria recognized the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) as the rulers of Libya.

Nigeria, a major oil producer and the most populous country in Africa, could find its role changed, and expanded, in the post-Qaddafi Africa.

All is not yet said and done in Libya: with rumors and falsehoods circulating, and Qaddafi himself still free, it’s hard to tell what is currently going on in the country, to say nothing of what the ramifications of events may be. With that said, though, actors like Nigeria are not waiting for the dust to settle before they move.

Nigeria was not the first African country to recognize the TNC (that honor, I believe, belongs to Gambia). Other nations in West Africa have since recognized the TNC (like Senegal) or called for Qaddafi to quit (like Mauritania). But Nigeria’s decision could have a strong and controversial impact on the continent.

The move has already attracted criticism from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, which says that Nigeria is “jumping the gun” by recognizing the rebels before the African Union (AU) makes its decision.

The ANC’s comments highlight the political complexity of the Libya issue in Africa: Nigeria and South Africa, which are both members of the United Nations Security Council, both voted in favor of imposing a No Fly Zone on Libya, but South Africa has subsequently objected to NATO’s military intervention in Libya.

Perhaps the ANC’s criticism of Nigeria reflects how difficult South Africa’s balancing act has become, as South Africa strives to stay involved in negotiating political outcomes in Libya while at the same time seeking to stand as a champion of African opposition to outside interference.

Clash of Africa's powers

If Nigeria and South Africa are indeed the two “African superpowers,” South Africa may feel threatened by Nigeria taking the initiative in this fashion. South Africa may fear that other countries will soon follow Nigeria’s lead, which would make the AU a follower, and not a forger, of the African stance on Libya.

Why did Nigeria break with Libya?

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