Despite the AU Peace and Security Council holding consultations early this month to discuss the crisis in Libya, and subsequently deciding to send a fact-finding mission to that country, this response was slow and in the end overtaken by events on the ground.
However, let me also contend that the international community would have done well to include the African Union in the decision-making process in the same way that, for example, the Arab League was consulted: this certainly would have lent added legitimacy to the operations we are now witnessing.
It is regrettable that although Libya is a member of our regional community, Africa’s only voice on this crucial issue was that of the few countries that sit on the UN Security Council.
This is not sufficient for our continent: we should be doing, and seen to be doing, the right thing at the right time — not from the sidelines of operations such as this, but right at the heart of solutions to the problems that are facing our people.
We cannot assume that there would have been a unanimous consensus on what course of action to pursue, but I do believe the majority of member states would have supported Resolution 1973 for the simple reason that we cannot continue watching the chaos that was consuming Libya while its people were crying out for help.
While the support may not have been military, the AU could have offered something far more valuable — political support and moral authority for the coalition’s actions on the ground.
There would have been other advantages to Africans having been more actively involved in the process that led to this joint action in Libya: first, it would have shown that African nations were ready to step up to the plate, accept their responsibilities and do the right thing.
To that extent it might have helped to erode the outdated and negative perception of Africa as a place destined for conflict and endemic poverty.
The truth is that African countries, including Rwanda, have made concerted efforts at political and economic reform in recent years, and should now be highly attractive to foreign investors. I am convinced that Africa presents the next frontier for business.
Second, African Union support for Operation Odyssey Dawn would have acted as a further deterrent to other African leaders who might be tempted to target their own people with violence.
The uprising in Libya has already sent a message to leaders in Africa and beyond. It is that if we lose touch with our people, if we do not serve them as they deserve and address their needs, there will be consequences.
Their grievances will accumulate — and no matter how much time passes, they can turn against you.