Libya is a Test of African Leaders’ Ability to Police The Continent – and, So Far, They’re Failing
Many prominent African leaders have spoken out against Western intervention to protect Libyans from Gaddafi’s attacks, but few have offered anything useful as an alternative.
Image by Abode of Chaos via Flickr
The current chaotic state of affairs in Libya, and the somewhat tepid response from the leaders of the Africa Union (AU), as well as support from other African dictators for Muammar al-Gaddafi, is distasteful to all lovers of freedom and democracy. Gaddafi, who has bankrolled a number of his fellow dictators on the continent since coming to power, and who has also supported a number of forces of destabilization, including support for international terrorist activity, doesn’t seem a likely ally for any but the most vicious, but such is the state of politics in Africa.
Gaddafi has been attempting to build a United States of Africa, with him as its leader, and this has not been resisted by many of those who have benefited from his largesse, although it has irritated many as well. It does also show the lack of institutional memory. Those who criticize the international community for coming to the aid of the Libyan people suffering from Gaddafi’s attacks, seem to forget that other countries in Africa have also been victims of Gaddafi’s megalomania – just ask the people of Chad.
Libya had been involved in the internal affairs of its southern neighbor even before Gaddafi took power in a coup, beginning with the extension of Chad’s civil war to northern Chad in 1968. In deference to France, Libya’s king Idris I only allowed sanctuary to the Islamic rebels from Chad. This state of affairs changed after Gaddafi’s 1969 coup. When Libyan forces occupied northern Chad in 1983, after Gaddafi refused to recognize the Chadian president, Francois Tombaibaye, all the Chadian forces put aside their differences and united to oppose them. The Toyota War, as it was known, resulted in the routing of Libyan forces, ending the conflict.
Gaddafi initially became involved in Chadian affairs, it is believed, because he wanted to annex the northernmost part of the country, the Aouzou Strip, which he claimed on the basis of an ungratified colonial-era treaty. According to the historian Mario Azevedo, in 1972, Gaddafi’s goal became the creation of an Islamic republic in the northern part of Chad, on the model of his jamahinya, to be used as a base from which to expand his influence in Central Africa.
The humiliating defeat of Libyan forces in Chad, with support from France and the United States, infuriated Gaddafi led, it is believed, to his support for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 and of UTA Flight 772 in 1989.
While a number of African leaders have been unequivocal in their condemnation of Gaddafi’s attacks on his own people, a few have made public statements against the UN-approved “no-fly zone.” Prominent among them is Zimbabwe’s geriatric dictator, Robert Mugabe, who labeled the West hypocritical for its actions, and Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, who said in a letter to the press that the Libyan opposition should be embarrassed to be backed by Western war planes. Even South Africa and Nigeria have been critical of Western air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces.
This knee-jerk reaction against Western efforts to protect Libyan civilians who are being victimized by a tyrannical leader fails to recognize that the world can no longer sit idly by when things like this happens. If the prospect of Western intervention on the continent is that distasteful, African leaders have to demonstrate a willingness to step up and solve these problems themselves. So far, few have volunteered anything beyond rhetoric.
Image by Abode of Chaos via Flickr