Libya: Mediating retirement for Col Gaddafi?

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (L) greets Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - 30 May 2011 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Jacob Zuma (L) has good form on mediation within South Africa and in Burundi

A defiant African leader refuses to step down. Violence escalates. The international community emphatically backs the opposition. And the African Union is consigned to the margins, from where it wails like an indignant Greek chorus as the drama unfolds.

So it was with Ivory Coast earlier this year, and so, again, it seems with Libya.

The AU's envoy, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma - whose flip-flopping on Laurent Gbagbo's legitimacy in Abidjan was widely seen as at best unhelpful, and who seemed to manage something similar regarding military intervention in Libya - has returned home once again from Tripoli, apparently empty-handed.

The AU's mediation package - which included a large life raft for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi - was spurned, unsurprisingly, by the rebels.

So where does this leave the AU, and South African foreign policy?

Should we be praising President Zuma for playing a weak hand well by using his charm and influence - and the African National Congress's long relationship with Col Gaddafi - to play the neutral honest broker, help save Libya from a prolonged civil war, and position South Africa as the essential intermediary between arrogant Western powers and the misunderstood "big men" of the developing world?

Leaving aside Ivory Coast, Mr Zuma has good form on mediation, both within South Africa and in Burundi. This article hints at the sort of haggling that may still be going on behind the curtains.

Or should we condemn the AU for repeating the "quiet diplomacy" that proved redundant in Ivory Coast and achieved so little for the citizens of Zimbabwe, and President Zuma for muddying the waters with a cynical performance that has more to do with trying to outshine Nigeria at the UN Security Council than any considered and principled foreign policy?

Here's an interesting article that chooses the second option, and an editorial urging South Africa - whatever diplomatic breakthroughs it may yet achieve - not to invite the colonel to spend his retirement down here.

And lastly - besides the deals Mssrs Zuma and Gaddafi discussed, let's pray they finally confronted one vital, tragic, resolvable issue: tThe whereabouts of the body of journalist Anton Hammerl.

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