ALTHOUGH Libyan rebels, backed by Nato, continue to clash with Muammar Qadhafi's forces in parts of the North African country, the situation has, for all practical purposes, reached a stalemate. Thousands, including civilians, have been killed thus far on both sides since anti-regime demonstrations, inspired by the 'Arab Spring', broke out in February. Col Qadhafi has struck back with a vengeance, and the result has been a bitter civil war that threatens the unity of Libya. In such a bleak scenario, a South Africa-led African Union peace initiative seems to be the best option to end hostilities. The AU does not support the Nato-led military campaign targeting Col Qadhafi's forces, and South African President Jacob Zuma has recently stepped up efforts to broker a peace deal. There are some indications — according to foreign diplomats — that Col Qadhafi may be willing to step down, a development that should placate the Libyan opposition. The South African foreign minister told a press conference in Pretoria on Wednesday that the Libyan dictator “does not want to stand in the way of a settlement”. She also said that the African Union should be given the “political space” to deal with the crisis, observing that the continental body is “central to any solution in Libya”.
We believe an African solution to an African problem is a far better alternative to reliance on military muscle. The colonel trusts South Africa as post-apartheid both countries have enjoyed cordial relations, unlike the Libyan strongman's stormy relationships with the West and much of the Arab world. He should commit to a time frame so that an exit strategy can be formulated. If there is indeed a negotiated settlement, Nato should respect the outcome. Overall, the AU has been quite active in trying to resolve Africa's myriad crises, much more so than, say, the Arab League has been in trying to untangle the Arab world's conflicts. In this, as in all other situations, a negotiated settlement should be preferred to force and the African Union should be allowed to bring Libya's belligerents to the table to help resolve the crisis.