By Institute for Security Studies
At the 29th African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa last month, the AU decided to accelerate its efforts to help negotiate a peace deal in Libya.
This came as the AU was being sidelined by other international actors such as France. To implement its decision to convene a national dialogue of all role players, the AU has to speedily establish technical and analytical support teams, as well as raise the funds to cope with the rigours of brokering peace in Libya’s complex politics.
France last month mediated a ceasefire between Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (who is backed by the United Nations [UN]) and eastern commander General Khalifa Haftar that was signed on 25 July 2017. The Paris deal followed similar efforts by Italy and Egypt to strengthen the failing Libyan Political Agreement, mediated by the UN in December 2015.
Meanwhile, the AU is yet to deliver on its July 2016 resolve to initiate a national dialogue on reconciliation for Libya.
As during the 2011 conflict and the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, the AU again seems to be sidelined in the mediation efforts. While poor coordination and limited influence on the ground affect the AU’s ability to lead Libya’s peace process, its neutral stance in the ongoing war does make it a reliable mediator in this crisis.
Poor record of inclusivity in Libya
In Paris, al-Sarraj and Haftar agreed to observe a ceasefire and hold elections as soon as possible. The deal is an achievement for newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron, who had pledged to make Libya a priority during his election campaign. A peaceful Libya is key to addressing the migration and terror threats from the region.
However, the country’s bitterly contested politics will test the viability of the deal. While the peace deal is expected to be part of a broader peace process led by Ghassan Salame, the UN Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission for Libya, it failed to consult and include other powerful local actors who can make or mar its implementation.
Notably, the self-declared government of Khalifa Ghwell in Tripoli, the Tobruk Parliament and other key warring leaders were not part of the deal. This criticism also holds true for the mediation efforts that led to the signing of the political agreement of December 2015.
Most Libyan stakeholders agree that the political agreement facilitated by the former UN Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, was hastily done, at the expense of its sustainability. This became clear during extensive consultations by the AU High-Level Committee on Libya led by President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo. In a summary of the discussions, seen by the PSC Report, the Libyan stakeholders condemned ‘the haste with which Mr Martin Kobler managed the negotiation process and the signing of the political agreement, in disregard of the deadline requested in order to render this text more inclusive’.
Absence of tribal and religious leaders from the formal negotiations
The Libyan peace process is reminiscent of the situation in Somalia in the early 1990s, when many local actors such as community and religious leaders were left out of peace talks.
The major focus of international actors in Libya has been the contested political leadership. Yet the overall process marginalises the tribal leaders who provide some form of governance to about 70% of Libya. Some of these tribal and religious leaders have united under the National Movement for Libya (NML) to advance reconciliation and facilitate ceasefires among militia groups.
In April this year about 60 tribal leaders from southern Libya signed a deal in Rome to cease hostilities and combat illegal migrant smugglers. These local leaders, as well as civil society, have a key role to play in the overall political peace process in Libya.
What is certain among Libyan stakeholders is the consensus that the political agreement of 2015 needs urgent revision to broaden the spectrum of Libyan actors.
Can the AU lead the peace process?
At the 29th AU summit the AU Assembly reaffirmed its intention to convene a Libyan national reconciliation dialogue in Addis Ababa, at a date yet to be determined. Since the July 2016 summit in Kigali, the AU has conveyed its interest in initiating such a dialogue, but it has not been able to do so. A number of other talks have meanwhile taken place, including the recent mediations led by Italy and France.
Questions are now being asked over the AU’s ability and political clout to intervene in Libya.
Firstly, some Libyan stakeholders, including Sarraj, regret the fact that the various AU initiatives in Libya are incoherent. The efforts of the High-Level Committee, the High Representative for Libya, former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete and current AU Chairperson Guinean President Alpha Conde are criticised for their lack of coordination and their inability to initiate or convene a national dialogue. At the 29th summit the AU recognised this challenge and said it would establish a coordinating mechanism to address it.
Secondly, even if AU activities are harmonised, the continental body arguably cannot influence the warring factions in Libya because it is not a prominent actor in either the realpolitik or the war in Libya. Although the AU’s non-involvement in Libya’s ongoing civil war counts in its favour, experience shows that the actors that manage to get Libyan stakeholders to the table are those that support either one or the other side of the Libyan divide. This includes the UN, the ultimate legitimising authority with considerable capacity to influence the situation in Libya.
Indeed, many Libyan actors are willing to be consulted by the AU, which can help to legitimise their political interests and get these out into the public domain. But they are also cognisant of the continental body’s limited influence on the ground, especially in terms of providing the necessary ‘carrots and sticks’ to spur actors to action.
Opportunities for AU mediation
Despite these limitations, the AU should maximise its advantage as a neutral body – a reputation it still holds even though some of its member states (such as Egypt) have taken sides in the conflict. The AU can do this by mobilising powerful role players, including the UN, to support its efforts to mediate between the Libyan actors.
The AU belongs to a Quartet on Libya, which was established on 18 March to coordinate international efforts to promote the political process in Libya. The other members of the Quartet are the European Union, the League of Arab States and the UN. The Quartet seems to have replaced the International Contact Group for Libya (ICG-L) that was established by the AU Peace and Security Council on 23 September 2014. The ICG-L’s last meeting was in January 2016.
At the Quartet’s second meeting on 23 May, its members acknowledged the AU’s important consultations with stakeholders earlier this year. The AU has to build on this to gain the support of the Quartet to mediate between the various Libyan factions.
The AU’s consultations give the continental body an edge in terms of better understanding the Libyan crisis and the interests of the various stakeholders. For instance, the High-Level Committee consultation revealed al-Sarraj’s willingness to abdicate power if the political process requires it. Aguila Saleh, the President of the Tobruk Parliament, wants a reduction in the number of Presidential Council members, from nine to three. Haftar, on the other hand, wants the Presidential Council of nine to be replaced with a Council of State consisting of three members, namely the current president, the speaker of the Tobruk Parliament and the army’s general commander. This would entail a Council of State consisting of al-Sarraj, Aguila and himself.
While these interests may not be solutions to the Libyan crisis, they are starting points for inclusive negotiations.
More capacity needed
At the 29th AU summit the AU had decided to expand its representation at the Quartet to include the representatives of the High-Level Committee and the High Representative for Libya, which is currently Kikwete. This should ensure the AU’s coordinated response in pushing for a mediatory role and for sustainable solutions.
To realise its ambition of enabling national reconciliation in Libya, the AU has to speedily establish technical and analytical support teams and ample resources to cope with the rigours of brokering such a complex peace.
It should also coordinate the efforts of Libya’s neighbours – including Egypt, Algeria and Morocco – which have thus far played significant but disparate roles in the conflict.