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Dangerous moves in Libya

By Obi Nwakanma

Across the Sahel, a fierce battle is raging. It is the battle for the soul of the continent. Libya is one of its main flashpoints. This battle is framed in the Western press in very essentialist terms as the battle between the good fighters of democracy and the evil rule of tyranny. But the more we look at it, and the more its strategies unfold, the more people are convinced that the narrative is not as simple as that.

As a friend of mine once told me, “if it smells like black Ops, it is black Ops.” This is the suspicion that the swell of insurrections in North Africa is a coordinated act of subterfuge. In Libya, with the coverage of the insurrectionist mood North of the Sahara, people rose, or were risen, to oust the leadership of Colonel Moumar Ghadaffi – that “old torn on the side of imperialism.” All kinds of speculative, conspiracy theories have emerged from the situation in Libya; from the suspicion that the rising was funded by Western nations long opposed to Ghadaffi, using elements they have trained for a long time to subvert the government of Libya and the authority of Colonel Moumar Ghadaffi.

Two weeks ago, a team of British Special Forces, gear and all, was apprehended when they secretly land in Libya. They had apparently fallen into the hands of supporters of the regime fuelling the suspicion that Britain and her allies are deeply involved in the unsettling situation. The other theory is one supplied by Ghadaffi himself who claims that Al-Qaeda was responsible for organising the insurrection to create a civil war in Libya and topple his government. It is a claim which Ghadaffi has voiced strongly, and it places the United States and her allies in a remarkably uncertain position.

Ghadaffi’s claim might just be a ploy to deflect and complicate the intentions of the West to intervene in his country, but the claim about Al-Qaeda is also dramatic in an ironic sense: one of the old contracts the US had with Al-Qaeda whom it had ironically funded in the 1980s in the wars in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union was to assassinate  Ghadaffi according to the documentary movie, “Terrorstorm.” It is all too complicated. The world is a complicated place.

The competing interests in Libya make the situation extremely complicated and volatile. But the scenario is one that ought to concern everyone south or north of the Sahara, because Libya lies in that interstice, and the quick move by Western powers to intervene and push Ghadaffi out of power smacks of both double standard and unseemly interest. But let me retrace my steps a bit here: the wave of democratic protests that hit much of North Africa against their dictatorial regimes swept through Libya and took a different violent turn.

A week into the  uprising when the so-called rebels took Benghazi, Ghadaffi’s son came on air to declare that those fomenting the crisis are basically pushing Libya into a civil war and that this would be resisted by his father’s supporters and there would be rivers of blood. He was, of course, derided in the media in the West and his fears shut down. The rebels quickly took Benghazi and began a push towards Tripoli. They took over the oil facilities and controlled the eastern parts of Libya. The United States, Great Britain, France and the EU began to make appropriate or inappropriate noise about regime change, about intervening in Libya to help the rebels and free the Libyan people from Ghadaffi’s long rule, and, of course, protect oil facilities, and help Libyan’s set up a new post-Ghadaffi free-market style democracy.

The United States president led the pressure and used very strong language – indeed, is still using very strong language that basically ordered Ghadaffi to leave “because he has lost the legitimacy to govern” or face the potential barrage of a powerful multilateral action apparently to be led by the US and her allies. The first talk is about establishing a “No fly zone” against the regime in Libya, who had by then began to pound rebel positions and roll back the gains of the rag-tag army that had mustered against Ghadaffi.

Indeed, President Barack Obama in his briefing with Britain’s Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, said, “all options are on the table” – meaning, the US and her NATO allies might still resort to the use of force to intervene in Libya and effect regime change. This is a very dangerous move. While they have been unable to muster the needed support in the UN Security Council for an international intervention in Libya, on account of the veto of the Russians and the Chinese, the US and its NATO allies are even at this moment, exploring options that might lead to a direct assault of Libya.

The first act has been humanitarian – to set up a corridor of tents for the displaced and for those in flight from the war – mostly foreigners fleeing Libya; the next act might be an act of war against a sovereign country, and the US is actually, most likely to bite much more than it bargained for if it is led into another war in Libya.

With its soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would basically over extend itself. But on the Libyan situation, and on a personal position, as a child of the civil war in Biafra, who survived on ration milk and mother-love, I fully understand the rebellion and the push by people who feel oppressed to free themselves by all means necessary.

I also ally with those who call on Ghadaffi to step down and create a transitional order that would democratise Libya. Being in power since 1968 makes him a ridiculous figure of the ancien  regime. Ghadaffi needs to go. However, in this situation in Libya, it seems clear that Ghadaffi has a great upper hand. He is still able to command the loyalty of more people in Libya than the opposition.

His leaving government in Libya must be on the terms of the Libyans not on the threat of an alliance of the West unwilling to recognise that Libya remains a sovereign entity with its own internal dynamics, and that the Libyans are a proud people and have a history, much like the Afghans of fighting to the death if they are attacked from outside. They are the so-called “pirates of Barbary” who sank America’s warship in North Africa in the 18th century and enslaved its crew. They are fierce fighters – and they are proud of their independence.

But, on an even more touching note is the feeling that the unseemly rush to oust Ghadaffi is a direct assault not only on a sovereign  nation in Africa, where Western powers have made a habit of talking down and hunkering down against African peoples and their leadership as if they are engaging mere, powerless infants.

No other part of the world suffers the humiliation of Western intervention as Africa. Many, in fact, also say that the key attraction is Libya’s vast oil field – the largest in Africa – and Ghadaffi is the bulwark against its exploitation.

The oil powers have not forgiven him for keeping them at bay. The move by the West is dangerous indeed, and might raise the fears even more across the Sahara that the resource wars that once led to Africa’s colonisation has again arrived, and that Libya is merely its first front. The US and her allies must step down and use more diplomatic means in Libya to forestall these increasing views about colonisation, or risk driving a wedge in its relationship with the continent.


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