Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Any role for Africa in Middle East Peace Process?

On August 31, Libyan ruler and African Union (AU) Chairman, Muammar Gadaffi, told an AU summit that Israel was "behind all of Africa's conflicts". He went on to say,"as African brothers, we must find solutions to stop the superpowers who are pillaging our continent." Representing Nigeria at that gathering under a huge tent at Tripoli airport was Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan.

Today in Abuja, Dr Jonathan will receive Isreal's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Nigeria is the fourth leg of Lieberman's 5 nation shuttle which began on September 2 during which he is travelling with a 20 businessman delegation, which includes 9 defence contractors according to Bloomberg. It is also the first visit to sub-Saharan Africa by an Isreali Foreign Minister in over 2 decades.

At the start of the trip in Addis Ababa, the AU Headquarters, Lieberman said that "it is important Ethiopia and other African nations use their influence on Arab states and international organization to promote peace in the region, rather than take a biased position against Israel." He also made a call for greater involvement in the region from African governments, saying "we look to Africa to help promote moderation and reconciliation in the Middle East."

But was he just trying to counter Gadaffi's attack or does he really think Africa has a strong enough clout to play the role he envisages.

Back in November 1971, the OAU (the AU's predecessor), felt it could suceed where the big powers weren't making progress and dispatched four "messengers of peace" to the region to bring peace via dialogue. One of the four was the Nigerian leader at the time, General Yakubu Gowon. The other leaders were Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Ahmadou Ahidjo of Cameroun and Joseph Mobutu of Zaire.

Senghor had this to say on their effort: "Most of the countries of black Africa maintain friendly relations with Israel and the Arab states, when you have friends who are fighting each other, it is incumbent upon you to build bridges between them and to pacify them. I believe that the Africans have a better chance to succeed in this than the Americans or the Russians."

Do the current crop of AU leaders have any such bold diplomatic intiatives up their sleeves or is Mr Lieberman's call to them just wishful thinking?

(Photo: Presidents (L-R) Mobutu Senghor, Ahidjo and Gowon meeting with the Speaker of the Knesset, Mr. Reuven Barkat in Jerusalem on November 5, 1971 - Credit: Israel Embassy, Abuja)

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