African viewpoint: On revolutions and resolutions

Libyan rebels (21/03) The ultimate fate of Libya's revolution remains unclear

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo questions the wisdom of the military intervention in Libya.

There is really no telling where next this 11th year of the 21st Century will take us.

All we know is that so far impossible things have happened, and with so many moorings on ships of state asunder, who knows where we will end up by the year's end?

The Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis took the North African revolutions of 2011 off the front pages briefly, but underlined our insignificance as a species in the face of nature's awesome power.

And as thousands lost homes and lives, we in Africa continued to hear about "crimes against humanity".

It was said such crimes were there in the distant past as Charles Taylor's trial ended, in the recent past as Egyptians overran Hosni Mubarak's torture chambers and in the present as Libya's lingering war deepened.


The Libyan rebels discovered that a revolution can be hijacked as easily as a ship off the Somali coast - hijacked by well-wishers and sudden friends - and the international clamour for their cause slowly reached a crescendo at the UN Security Council the other day with 10 votes in favour of a no-fly zone and five abstentions.

Up to that point, the stubborn colonel had been bombarding his way eastward, to the very centre of the rebellion in Benghazi.

Pro-Gaddafi vehicles on fire (21/03) Gaddafi's tanks have been burning in the desert

And as he moved east, taking in strategic oil positions, he could smell the treachery of those who once took his money and his oil, and of his brothers in the Arab League.

The same Arab League which, in its lifetime, has seen resolution after resolution ignored by more powerful nations has decided to put its mark on one that will destroy one of their own.

UN Resolution 1973 seeks to protect civilian lives by ensuring Col Gaddafi's planes do not cross Libyan airspace on their way to bomb rebel strongholds, and to do everything militarily possible to stop the killing of non-combatants.

"No-fly" does not seem to mean just a clipping of wings over Libya, so that only vultures and other wild birds should populate the desert skies.

Within hours, the French had sent their missiles raining down over Libya, reportedly shooting down a Libyan plane said to have belonged to the Benghazi rebels, and not the Gaddafi loyalists.

Tanks belonging to the advancing Gaddafi forces are burning in the desert.

The French, whose muscles have not been flexed in North Africa since the Battle of Algiers, were joined by the British, the Americans, the Canadians and all diplomacy waited for other Arabs to lend the move legitimacy by joining the fray.

Everything we have seen and heard in this month of Libya's revolution says such an eventuality has long been expected; indeed, it has been willed by the rebel armies.

Meanwhile, the colonel, although possessing a collection of handshakes with world leaders in his impressive photo albums, is fast running out of friends.

Questions, questions

But our political world is as unpredictable as our natural one - and a wrong move by these powerful armies bent on stopping Col Gaddafi after 42 years in power could have as catastrophic an impact as the oceans erupting without warning.

Start Quote

The 'protection of civilians' is a worthwhile and legitimate mission, but in a country at war with itself, how are civilians to be identified? ”

End Quote

The cynics among us will observe the lack of consistency in international interventions.

How dictators stay on and on armed to the teeth by those who will one day vow to remove them in the cause of freedom, and that there are nations even as we ponder the events in Libya, who have sent troops to Bahrain without a UN resolution and that 45 protesters were killed in Yemen last Friday as they sought the same freedoms currently sprouting in North Africa.

Are some dictators more palatable than others? Some revolutions more worthy of support?

The "protection of civilians" is a worthwhile and legitimate mission, but in a country at war with itself, how are civilians to be identified?

Where is the Red Cross? How will such a mission end?

Why are Western commanders referring to Libyan defence positions as "enemy targets"? Is this about the protection of civilians or regime change? The questions are piling up with the body count - regardless of the colonel's personal fate.

The Gaddafi regime's 11th-hour call for a ceasefire was said to be a smokescreen as advances continued into rebel territories, and it is these advances that have become the target of Western forces.

There is a whiff of disproportionate force in the air, a whiff of oily ulterior motives, and many examples in recent history that warn of sending multiple armies to sort out a domestic dispute.

And then there are the forgotten ones.

'Revolutionary dictators'

A little further south-west and beyond the Sahara, where oil is not the lifeblood of the economy, a man who lost an election last November decided to nationalise the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast cocoa farmer (file photo) No-one has used force to protect Ivory Coast's cocoa

So mute was the despair of chocolate addicts and cocoa drinkers across the world that Laurent Gbagbo, the man currently pretending to be president there, has ignored calls for his departure and watched with disinterest as his country folk fled across the Liberian border and soldiers killed women in peaceful marches that had called for his departure.

And those who yesterday tasted freedom - in Tunisia, Egypt - find themselves still in the honeymoons of their revolutions, able to fire a prime minister, demand more freedoms and clamour for retrospective justice as they chase after the billions of dollars said to have been misappropriated by their former rulers.

As fighting planes vainly named after natural disasters - Tornados, Typhoons - patrol the Libyan skies, they should remember what our continent has learned to her cost: that revolutions have a habit of turning revolutionaries into dictators, and the departure of a dictator could give us protracted war, tribal warlords and uncertainty.

No solid plan exists to ensure that this natural regression will not occur in Tunis, Cairo or Tripoli.


More on This Story

Letter from Africa

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    As with everything in this world, we never attain everything we would like at the time we would like to have it. Whilst previous UN resolutions failed to provide sufficent clarity of purpose, the wording of Resolution 1973 will make it much harder for tyrants and despots to escape retribution in future. Threatened citizenry can take heart that Resolution 1973 can be used to help them as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Thank you Farai for your interesting article. I am in support of military intervention in Libya. One of the greatest regrets of former President Clinton was not stopping the genocide in Rwanda. The world cannot fold their hands and watch Quadafi massacare his own people. As a president, he is supose to protect his people and not kill them in an attempt to hold on to power after fourty-years.


More Africa stories



Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.