Libya's transitional National Council (TNC) suffered a setback in its pursuit of legitimacy yesterday when the African Union (AU) refused to recognise it as being the country's legitimate government.
The TNC has been recognised by more than 40 countries, including some African states, but divisions remain within the African Union, some members of which were heavily bankrolled by the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi until he was ousted by the rebels earlier this week.
It took more than eight hours for the AU to decide not to throw its support behind the rebel administration yesterday during a meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Calling for an immediate ceasefire in the fighting, South African President Jacob Zuma, was one of only three African heads of state to attend the summit.
He said that the AU would not recognise the TNC as the legitimate government as long as the fighting continued. "If there is fighting, there is fighting. So we can't stand here and say this is the legitimate [government] now. The process is fluid. That's part of what we inform countries – whether there is an authority to recognise," Mr Zuma said.
The AU has instead called for an "all-inclusive transitional government" to be set up in Libya, a government that would also involve some of the officials from Gaddafi's side. But the proposal that was made by the AU officials has been rejected by the members of the TNC.
Mr Zuma had travelled to Tripoli during the early stages of the rebellion and publicly visited Bab al-Aziziya – Gaddafi's compound in the heart of the city that has now been overrun by the rebels. He has consistently argued that "quiet diplomacy" was the way to solve the civil war. Earlier in the day, Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the TNC, called for recognition from the AU and for the urgent release of frozen Libyan assets, saying that the government could face a "legitimacy crisis" if the Libyan people's demands are not met.
Despite the AU's reticence on recognising the TNC, several African states broke rank and pledged their support to Mr Jibril's administration. Ethiopia and at least another 19 African countries have offered their support.
Officials present at the summit said that the 15-member council was split almost in half between countries that have recognised the TNC and those that have not.
Two of the three heads of state who attended the summit, Mr Zuma and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, have been vocal supporters of Gaddafi, which may have influenced the group's decision. Zimbabwe is also one of the few states strongly in Gaddafi's camp and the country is seen as a possible asylum destination for him.
As well as having had financial links to Gaddafi, analysts say the decision by Western powers to overlook an AU road map for a change in leadership in Libya has angered many African states, which explains in part why they have been reluctant to follow the lead of the US and most of Europe in recognising the rebels.
Last night Libya's western neighbour Algeria denied reports that it was prepared to back the TNC if it would tackle al-Qaeda's wing in North Africa and the Islamic Maghreb.Reuse content