African viewpoint: Farce or freedom?

A rebel fighter gestures beside a Kingdom of Libya flag

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo looks at the vagaries of civil war.

Africa's 2011 drama has continued without pause, and those of us watching from a distance are not short of images or reports.

We have seen bodies being disposed of in Duekoue, Ivory Coast, and we have seen the Libyan rebels attack and retreat and retreat and attack again and then retreat some more.

Since the country is awash with journalists at every front and in every clinic, hospital bed reportage is all the rage.

The Libyan uprising has entered its third month with the colonel firmly entrenched and the battle to remove him still as confused as it was three months ago.

The difference now is that Nato air strikes have turned the tide of the conflict to some kind of middle ground, where all Libyans are at risk of being hit by hi-tech arms dropped from the skies because besides one flag being red black and green and the other just green, there is really no telling who is who.

The rebels, as we are learning, have powerful friends with even more powerful arms, but they are a collection of unharnessed passion, raw emotion and untrained individuals.

On the political front, a kind of leadership is beginning to emerge, and fledgling Libyan diplomats have begun appearing on rolling news, urging Nato to do more to protect civilians.

But Nato, unaware that the rebels also have tanks, has been firing at their allies in the fight to implement UN resolution 1973, sparking anger and death.

Conscripts or civilians?
An Abidjan resident goes out to get supplies on Thursday 7 April 2011 Residents of Abidjan rush to do shopping before a midday curfew that has been imposed on the city

Meanwhile, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, ever the Africanist, wrote to President Barack Obama, urging "our son" to stop this illegal bombing of a developing nation.

The US president's Kenyan links may have given the colonel false hopes, but even as his plea was rebuffed, his forces kept regaining lost ground.

In a fortnight in which his foreign minister defected in a private plane, we are all left wondering just who is left to fight for Col Gaddafi.

Who are the people parking his tanks in residential areas?

Who are the young men who have quickly adopted the open-truck-baseball-hat look of the rebels as they attack rebel positions?

Are they conscripts or civilians?

And are their lives worth less than the doctors, mechanics, students, intellectuals and former Gaddafi generals leading the eastern forces?

Start Quote

If only those who want to get rid of Gaddafi would stop saying: 'Perhaps he could go into exile, maybe an African country can take him' as if Libya has been bombed into the middle of the Mediterranean”

End Quote

One such general, Abdul Fatah Younis, was until February the interior minister of the Libyan government under Col Gaddafi, but now he is given to pronouncements like:

"If Nato wanted to remove the siege on Misrata, they would have done so days ago…

"Every day, women, children and seniors are being killed. This crime will be hanging from the necks of the international community until the end of days."

There is a farcical edge to this which would be laughable were it not so serious.

The Libyan body count is serious and real, the plight of civilians increasingly worrying as the war drags on.

The international community is wringing its hands as generals and politicians try to rebuff the accusations of regime change and the gluttonous search for oil.

If only the African Union was a little less mute, if only they could be heard complaining when they were not represented at a Lancaster House conference to decide the future of Libya.

And if only those who want to get rid of Col Gaddafi would stop saying: "Perhaps he could go into exile, maybe an African country can take him" as if Libya has been bombed into the middle of the Mediterranean.

'No kamikaze'

And as we think these thoughts there comes an AU delegation led by Jacob Zuma, South meeting North Africa to broker a possible peace between the "brother leader" and the rebels in the east.

Pro-Ouattara troops in Abidjan Now that he is in power, can Alassane Ouattara control his armed supporters?

Any deal that does not involve Col Gaddafi stepping down, we are told, would not be acceptable to the rebels.

But in reality, the rebels control one eastern city and are in danger of being over-run in others so their bargaining power comes entirely from foreign powers, which is an unsustainable position.

It is the way of powerful men, of ruthless leaders with talents for self-preservation, to wax on lyrically about freedom and life.

So don't be surprised to hear Ivory Coast's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo declare that he is not a kamikaze, that he loves life, without a single reference to the thousands losing theirs as he tried to cling on to life and power in a basement in Abidjan.

But as the Republican Forces backing his rival Alassane Ouattara encircled him, and the French rescued the Japanese ambassador, life for the unarmed ordinary citizens is full of the uncertainties of war - no water, no electricity and the random violence of armies on the move.

Mr Ouattara's first real presidential test will now be what he does with Mr Gbagbo, handed to him with the help of French special forces.

In both Libya and Ivory Coast the long view does not suggest a sudden peace breaking out, where rebels become established government and allies are rewarded with oil contracts and the steady flow of cocoa.

The long view suggests that the personalities - the defecting generals, the fleeing commanders, the young men in search of vengeance for the dead, the militia loyalists and the beleaguered presidents will be with us for some time unless the negotiations for the peace are far more delicate than the declarations of war.

We are, after all, in the month of the 17th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, something we ought to remember until the end of days.

If you would like to comment on Farai Sevenzo's column, please do so below.


More on This Story

Letter from Africa

More Africa stories