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Obama admits Libya “worst mistake” of his tenure. Could the AU’s negotiated transition roadmap have been a better option?

The admission by then U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016 that the prevailing mess in Libya and “probably failing to plan for the day after, [the intervention]” was the “worst mistake” of his presidency raises questions on the efficacy of foreign military intervention in conflicts across Africa. Looking back, how should the Libyan crisis have been handled? Should the African Union have been given a chance to implement its roadmap for a negotiated transition?

August 2011 marked the fall of Tripoli to Libyan rebel forces, and the inevitable demise of Col Muammar Gaddafi who was later captured in battle and killed in Sirte in October.

News of the demise of Col Gaddafi’s regime was widely celebrated in Libya and across the world, with great optimism and euphoria that Gaddafi’s downfall would usher in a new era of democracy.

During a press conference after the death of Col Gaddafi, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted”.

However, four years after the tyranny, which was said to have been lifted, the long awaited and anticipated democracy has remained elusive. Instead, Libya has descended into chaos, marked by deep political and ethnic divisions, uncertain political and security terrain.

U.S. President Barack Obama. Photo: US Department of State
U.S. President Barack Obama. Photo: US Department of State

The admission by President Obama that the prevailing mess in Libya and “probably failing to plan for the day after, [the intervention]” was the “worst mistake” of his presidency raises questions on the efficacy of foreign military intervention in conflicts across Africa.

Although Obama reiterated that the UN-sanctioned and NATO-led military intervention in Libya “was the right thing to do,” by his own admission the consequences on the ground makes for a grim reading.

As Libya continues to be confronted by both immediate and longer-term challenges, several questions are raised by Obama’s acknowledgment of failure.

Looking back, could the African Union (AU), which was heavily criticised for its perceived lethargic approach during the Libyan crisis have been given room and time to implement its roadmap for a negotiated transition?

The AU proposed roadmap, indeed lacked clarity on key elements. Although the roadmap certainly had no guarantees of success, it had its merits and in retrospect, it should not have been dismissed without being given a chance and ample time.

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