In March 2011, as NATO forces were preparing to intervene in Libya, the United States and Europe saw Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi as evil incarnate and were determined that he had to be removed from power, no matter what the cost.
One leader took a more measured approach: Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
In an article in Foreign Policy dated March 24, 2011, Museveni gives a point-by-point, clear-headed argument on why the world’s race to war with Qaddafi was misguided. Nearly five years later, history has proven Museveni was not just right, he was dead-on.
Make no mistake, Museveni is not a fan of the former Libyan leader. According to Museveni, Qaddafi made several mistakes in dealing with Africa, resulting in no love lost between Qaddafi and most of Africa.
Qaddafi supported Ugandan despot Idi Amin with troops and firepower. He relentlessly pushed for a United States of Africa despite being told repeatedly by other African leaders that while they wanted economic cooperation, they did not want to join as one state. When governments thwarted his United Africa proposal, he tried to bypass government and engage traditional leaders in ways that were against constitutional provisions.
Most important of all, Museveni criticizes Qaddafi for not distancing himself from terrorism. As Museveni notes in Foreign Policy, “We were together with the Arabs in the anticolonial struggle. The black African liberation movements, however, developed differently from the Arab ones. Where we used arms, we fought soldiers or sabotaged infrastructure, but never targeted noncombatants.”
Despite Museveni’s critiques, he also notes Qaddafi had developed Libya into a middle income country, infrastructure was good, and employment was such that foreign workers were needed to keep the economy running. Also, Qaddafi was a moderate who did not believe in Islamic fundamentalism, and as one of the few secular leaders in the Arab world, women in Libya went to school, joined the army, served in government, owned property, and had equal rights in obtaining a divorce.
Looking at the looming crisis, Museveni calls for a far more cautious approach, and an approach led by internal powers – internal rebel forces within Libya and the governing body for Africa: the African Union (AU). He notes that the African Union (AU) mission had been unable to enter Libya as Western countries had already started bombing the day before they were to arrive, but proposes that not only should the mission continue, but the AU should call an extraordinary summit to discuss the situation. Further, he says Qaddafi must sit down with the opposition under the mediation of the AU.
As for forces within Libya, Museveni acknowledges he is “totally allergic to foreign political and military involvement in sovereign countries” due to the extreme harm these action cause throughout the world, but especially in Africa. “If foreign intervention is good,” writes Museveni in Foreign Policy, “then African countries should be the most prosperous in the world because we have had the greatest dosages of that: the slave trade, colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism, etc. But all those foreign imposed phenomena have been disastrous.” Museveni adds that Africa is only now coming up because it is rejecting “external meddling.”
If Libya is to overthrow Qaddafi, Museveni explains, it must be a decision and action taken by internal forces within Libya. “It should be for the leaders of the resistance in a given country to decide their strategy,” writes Museveni, “not for foreigners to sponsor insurrection groups in sovereign countries.” Adding that Libyan opposition groups had easily captured equipment from the Libyan Army, he asks why they even need foreign military support.
Museveni further cautions that “Western countries over-using their technological superiority to impose war on less developed societies, without impeachable logic, will ignite an arms race in the world.” Noting that Western countries actions in Iraq and Libya were emphasizing that might is right. “Weapons science is not magic,” he warns. “I am quite sure that many countries that are able to will scale up their military research and in a few decades we may have a more armed world.”
Despite these arguments, Museveni notes the United Nations had voted on a resolution, and thus they were now bound by that resolution, no matter how rushed the process, but he notes that there is a process for review that should be considered in order to extricate the world from what he predicts could be “nasty complications.”
“What if the Libyans loyal to Qaddafi decide to fight on? Who will be responsible for such a protracted war?” he asks, noting that a Western invasion could leave Libya in utter chaos, similar to Somalia where rivaling clans left the country without a government for 20 years, and even now the government’s hold on power is tenuous at best. “It is high time we did more careful thinking,” he sagely suggests.
Today in Libya, there are two rival governments, militia throughout the country, no gas, no electricity or reliable delivery of government services, and thousands of refugees that cross Libya’s porous borders to wash up on European shores.
Throughout the chaos, one thing is clear: the Western countries that rushed through the resolution that allowed military intervention in Libya should have instead taken Museveni’s more measured approach.