One year on, the revisions are flowing in. It is always difficult to predict how a war will turn out, but Libya was a disaster foretold.
It was clear from the start that this was not a revolution but a civil war.
It was an attempt, especially by the losers when Gaddafi took power — the Eastern groups in Benghazi and their allies — to reclaim power.
The West plunged in because they had their own feuds with Gaddafi, an African leader who had the temerity to order the Italians to pay $5 billion for the damage inflicted during colonialism before its companies could access Libya’s oil fields.
The western media spun the whole affair as an effort by the West to fight for freedom.
That was, of course, transparent fiction. As a letter writer to this newspaper put it, it was like Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron unleashing fighter jets to aid a movement by the Kisii community to secede from Kenya or to capture power.
Many on the continent also made the obvious case that chaos would ensue in the aftermath of the fall of the dictator in a conflict in which no contingency plan was made to prepare for the post-war phase.
A year later, some of the better writers who covered the fighting have returned their verdicts on today’s Libya, and it makes for grim reading.
This is Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker: “(T)he fall of Gaddafi has not brought a truly new nation, not yet; rather, something more like an ongoing meltdown.
“The western powers helped deliver victory to the motley rebels with air strikes, not ground forces, and did not, in the aftermath, have the clout in the field to help build peace.
“And the gray men and technocrats of the self-appointed new Libyan leadership have no real power, so it appears, over the armed fighters, who have kept rival militias in the field.
“There are almost daily clashes in the capital and in various provinces; just a few days ago, the town of Bani Walid, a mere 90 miles from Tripoli, was retaken by Gaddafi loyalists…
“With a wealth of arms now in the hands of thousands of young men throughout the country and the absence–after 42 years of Gaddafi’s peculiar brand of despotism–of any single strong, charismatic, or unifying figure, the problems will continue.
“There is at least the possibility of a multifaceted civil war down the road between cities, tribes, and armed interest groups.”
And here is Anthony Shadid of the New York Times: “(In Libya you have) a government whose authority extends no further than its offices (and) militias whose swagger comes from guns far too plentiful…no one would consider a city ordinary where militiamen tortured to death an urbane former diplomat two weeks ago, where hundreds of refugees deemed loyal to Col. Gaddafi waited hopelessly in a camp and where a government official acknowledged that ‘freedom is a problem.’
“Much about the scene was lamentable, perhaps because the discord was so commonplace.”
The African Union tried to stop the West’s breathless march to war but was swatted aside when it offered to send in mediators.
South Africa, above all, played a prominent role in warning about the dangers inherent in the West’s strategy and has led efforts at the UN to investigate the civilian casualties as a result of the aerial bombardment.
Many Pan-Africanists who want to see a stronger AU had hoped South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would succeed in her recent bid to head the organisation’s executive body.
South Africa is arguably the continent’s only truly independent country. It has deliberately weaned itself off foreign aid and has struck a path of independence on foreign policy not seen since the days of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere.
If the AU is to emerge as a serious player on the world stage and to prevent many other Libya-style disasters down the road, it needs the kind of leadership which, in a continent filled with too many weak and failing states, only South Africa can offer.