How Mandela became the global peace-maker

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Muammar Gaddafi hopes that ending the Jolo Island hostage crisis will further enhance his image on the international stage. But the central figure in the Libyan leader's reinvention of himself - and in dozens of diplomatic manoeuvres ranging from Northern Ireland to East Timor - has been the former South African president, Nelson Mandela.

Muammar Gaddafi hopes that ending the Jolo Island hostage crisis will further enhance his image on the international stage. But the central figure in the Libyan leader's reinvention of himself - and in dozens of diplomatic manoeuvres ranging from Northern Ireland to East Timor - has been the former South African president, Nelson Mandela.

"It is clear that without South Africa's links with Libya, we would not be seeing a possible end to the hostage crisis,'' said Greg Mills, national director of the South African Institute of International Affairs. "It is probable that Gaddafi's motivation is to try to win a more respectable role for Libya in the international community, and South Africa is an important element in that,'' he said.

South Africa, through President Mandela, played a key role, last year, in securing the transfer, for trial in the Netherlands, of the two Libyan suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Entirely bypassing anti-Gaddafi sentiments in the United States and Britain, President Mandela then cleared the way for the lifting of United Nations flight sanctions against Libya. These had been in force since 1992 as a result of US and British suspicions over Lockerbie.

But Col Gaddafi is still cashing in his quid pro quos for the Lockerbie suspects. His alleged willingness to pay £16.7m for the hostages - including two South Africans - who are held by the Libyan-trained Abu Sayyaf is just the latest stage in the rehabilitation of this long-standing supporter of the African National Congress.

President Mandela's role in leading the Libyan leader on his path in from the cold is controversial. "Of course, from a humanitarian point of view, one has to be pleased that the hostages may soon be freed. But one has to ask questions about the precedent which is being set by money being paid for these hostages,'' said Mr Mills.

President Mandela's cosy relations with Col Gaddafi and maverick diplomatic interventions often raise eyebrows, not least with the United States.

But last year, when Bill Clinton expressed displeasure over Mr Mandela's exchanges with the Libyan leader before the Lockerbie handover, the former South African president said the US president could ''take a flying jump into the swimming pool'' if he disapproved.

Perhaps surprisingly for a champion of reconciliation, it is brusque talk rather than subtlety which has become Mr Mandela's hallmark in his diplomatic endeavours.

Next week, President Clinton is expected to attend the signing in Arusha, Tanzania, of a peace deal between the Hutu and Tutsi foes in Burundi's ongoing civil strife. Yet the peace-broking for Burundi began with the Tutsi-lead government receiving a bruising talking-to from Mr Mandela.

President Mandela's first forays into international mediation began aboard the SAS Outeniqua, a South African naval vessel which in 1997 was used for peace talks that brought together the late Zairean dictator, Mobutu Sese Sek, and the present, embattled, leader of the country, Laurent Kabila.

It was a bruising and unsuccessful start for Mr Mandela because the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as Zaire is now called, is still continuing. Nevertheless, South Africa was true to its principles of human rights and democracy and refused to intervene militarily in the conflict.

Unfortunately, other southern African countries - Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Rwanda and Uganda - were less principled, and the fighting goes on.

The new South Africa continues to represent a moral highground on the world stage. It is the world's only unilaterally disarmed nuclear state and it represents a "third way'' in diplomacy because its identity is not tied to cold war allegiances.

Comments