As events continue to unfold in Libya, questions are quickly arising about what Gadhafi’s departure will mean for Sub Saharan Africa. During the course of his forty-one (41!) year rule, Gadhafi has gone out of his way to redefine his image and brand himself as a leading figure in Africa (interestingly enough, just as his role and influence in the Arab world began to dwindle…but I digress).
What his contributions and policies have meant for Africa, its institutions, and ultimately its people cannot go understated. Here’s a brief summary of the different ways a change in Libya’s leadership may have dire implications for the Horn of Africa and the rest of the continent.
Libya’s Reach Into Africa
United States of Africa…Really Libya? Really??
If there’s one thing Gadhafi is great at, it’s the ability to reinvent and rebrand himself. Despite his poor track record on governance and human rights, the Leader and Guide of the Revolution has managed to avoid major costs for his continued tight and despotic rule since 1969. After spending most of his political career focused on Libya’s role in the Middle East, Islamic movements and the Arab world, he shifted his attention in the new century to Sub-Saharan Africa, in an attempt to remain relevant and influential in the global arena.
What transpired over the next decade was a significant outpouring of financial assistance, military support and political positioning towards many of its regional neighbors as well as key countries throughout Central and East Africa.
Among many of his reinventions, the self-titled “King of Kings” for Africa had the brilliant idea of introducing a major campaign for Africa’s unity, under the ever so appropriate title, “United States of Africa”. And not to outdo the West, he picked a name with exactly the same abbreviation as the USA and built a movement for federalism and cooperation similar to the West’s model.
For many, this is a powerful idea. Yes agreed.
Having a form of unified governance, integration and cooperation among African states is where we should be. Theoretically, this could be a new ideology and approach worth supporting for African stability and growth. The idea of a passport, one army and common currency (the “Afro”) is important and incredibly symbolic for a Pan-African message of strength and progress.
But realistically, as long as the root causes of Africa’s poverty, conflict and capacity to govern are not resolved, it is still premature to expect that continental unification will yield any better results. Much less from Libya. This vision has failed to address the very real flaws, omissions and challenges of governance and transparency in Africa, regionally and continentally. Economic and political integration has proven to be far more difficult and ongoing conflicts and corruption continue to seize a number of countries.
Ghadafi’s Power of His Big Oil Purse
As the 12th largest exporter of oil in the world, Libya’s exports about $44.5 billion dollars of oil a year. It is evident that Gadhafi has used his country’s wealth as leverage for regional and Pan-African power. But is it working?
A quick look at Libya’s monetary lending to African governments reveals that over 2 billion USD was given to some thirty countries. Of that, 22 are African and 4 are from the Horn of Africa.
Clearly, Ghadafi is just doing what any dictator or powerful government will do – use their money to gain influence. What would a potential removal of such support do to countries so reliant on Libyan aid, such as Sudan and Ethiopia? How is that any different than the Western donor countries that so many people are quick to blame?
COUNTRY AMOUNT AMOUNT OUTSTANDING OF LOAN REPAID BALANCE (MILLION USD)* (incl. interest) Central African Republic 11.32 million euros** 0 Mali 66.26** 0 Tunisia 63 25.2 37.8 Madagascar 102.92 22.055 80.137 Seychelles 3 0 7.05 Pakistan 53.5 51.55 1.69 Burkina Faso 16 9.09 9.19 Tanzania 101 40 61 Rwanda 10.04 3.08 14.82 Burundi 5 0.76 4.24 Congo Republic 18 6 12 Gambia 6 2.25 3.75 Ethiopia 243 6 249 Nicaragua 123.38 5.59 302.12 Cuba 10.02 4.84 11.50 Guinea 20 0 42.66 Guinea-Bissau 3 0 4.9 Chad 5 0 5 Niger 22.64 0 34.22 Mozambique 105.33 0 211.07 Mauritania 72.4 0 131.14 Egypt 15 0 15 Somalia 11.75 0 14.73 Sudan 610.19 141.94 1,287.31 Eritrea 25.66 0 35.54 Grenada 5 0 5 ex-Yugoslavia 96.57 0 155.077 Guyana 15 0 39.44 Syria 215 0 215 Yemen 16.2 0 33.17 The documents also states that the following countries have fully repaid loans to Libya: Hungary, Poland, Benin, Vietnam, Panama, Ghana, Algeria, Uganda, Gabon * Amounts in millions of U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated ** Loans not yet due for repayment (Compiled by Ali Shuaib; Editing by Giles Elgood)
Libya in the African Union
What’s worse, Libya’s positioning has gone beyond bilateral lending and political state rebranding. It’s reached the halls of Africa’s main organizational body and seized its agenda in a significant way.
Membership dues in the AU are carried by five main heavyweight states – Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, and South Africa. The fact that three of these five are undergoing massive crises and potential regime change at the moment could mean serious implications for the future of what is already a fledgling regional organization.
Approximately 15% of the AU’s membership dues come from Libya, an amount which will undoubtedly be affected if Gadhafi is to leave. Give his influence and leverage over the organization, its no wonder the AU has remained silent since the uprisings began. Just as the AU was strangely absent during Egypt’s fallout, it’s highly doubtful the AU will find its voice towards one of its biggest donors.
Libya’s Gold (Iron?) Fist in The Rain
Much noise has been made about Gadhafi’s speech today.
Regionally, nearly every country in the Horn of Africa (sans Djibouti) has received and even relied on Libya’s financial support. (See factbox above.) In Ethiopia, Gadhafi’s leverage as one of the primary funders of the African Union is a weight he’s thrown around to influence Horn power politics. Libya’s role in the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement with Eritrea and Chad as well as its numerous gas and trade agreements has given Libya significant regional economic and political leverage that’s gone unmatched.
Will Anyone Protect the People of the Horn?
Thousands (if not millions) of legal and illegal Horn migrants in Libya will be caught and immediately affected by the current crisis. Like Egypt, it is a very active point of transit for refugees and migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. The International Organization of Migration estimates that approximately ten percent of Libya’s population consists of African migrants. That doesn’t include the scores of undocumented arrivals and persons caught in trafficking.
True to form, Gadhafi has already warned that it might suspend its cooperation with the EU on migration to Europe , a move which have serious absorption challenges for Europe as well as potential targeting and repatriation of undocumented persons back to their respective Horn countries.
Horn migrants caught in between Egypt and Israel have already had to face horrific settings, including repeated torture, rape and beatings. What will be next for the thousands in Libya who are risking their lives for a better opportunity in Europe?
Libya is the straw that will break the migration pattern’s back I’m afraid.