Libya – Reversing the gains of a nation

Gaddafi - Killed by NTC rebels

The demise of Libya’s Moamar Qathafi who was summarily executed by Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) rebel fighters after being wounded in a NATO air strike on his convoy just outside his hometown of Sirte may have indeed marked the end of an era in the history of that country. But events surrounding his execution have also left a legacy of hatred. The Libyan sandy dust is now settling down after NATO bombs have stopped falling. The NTC is coming to terms with the daunting task at hand, and have asked NATO to stick around. But NATO forces are missionaries who should be returning to base once a mission is accomplished. And in the case of Libya, the ‘‘humanitarian intervention’’ mandate of  ‘‘protecting civilians’’ has already been accomplished through regime change. NATO member countries along with Qatar trained, armed and provided intelligence and air support for rebel activities which culminated into the ouster of the Qathafi Regime.

This adds credence to claims that, the rebellion which had been nurtured, armed and orchestrated largely from abroad, in collaboration with expatriate opposition groups and their local allies at home had nothing to do with “humanitarian concerns”. The slain leader had long being placed on Western Powers’ death row and plans of regime change were drawn long before the Benghazi insurgency which provided perfect cover with all the hallmarks of a well-orchestrated civil war. But with the entire country now under their control, the in ability of the Council to take command of national security is testing the leadership’s resolve in meeting the challenges.

City-States

Libya is a country built on  tribal ties. And the decision of the Council to delay the formation of a new government after the country has been without a functioning central government since Qathafi was ousted more than nine weeks ago has left a power vacuum now filled by tribal leaders. Thanks to the proliferation of weapons, the country has been carved up into loose city-states. Misrata, for example, and Zintan in the Western Mountains have their own militias and regional governments acting almost independently. There is little cohesion or coordination among the various groups, and no one to reign in their excesses. The NTC which declared itself to be the “only legitimate body representing the people of Libya and the Libyan State” is weak and divided over what its Interim Leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil described as “differences in views” among NTC members.

Radicalization

Under the late Qathafi’s brand of communal socialism, Islamic worship was state-regulated and any apparent manifestation of political or militant Islam drew harsh security crackdowns. A fact the now defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a militant jihadist organization knew too well. Co-founded by Abdelhakim Belhaj, a man who had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 80’s alongside Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the LIFG waged a bloody insurgency against the late Colonel in the 90’s until it was defeated by the regime in 1998. On the run until 2004 when he was captured in a CIA operation in Malaysia, Belhaj was handed over to Colonel Qathafi’s regime after being interrogated in Thailand and Hong Kong. He was later freed on a “de-radicalization program” for imprisoned Libyan militants. Belhaj was among the first to take up the fight against the Colonel’s regime during the outbreak of the Libya Uprising. Trained and armed by Qatari special forces in the Western Mountains, his troops marched triumphantly into Tripoli. With his troops now numbering around 8,000 the man known in the jihad world as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq is the city’s most visible military commander as head of Tripoli’s Supreme Council.

The NTC and their western supporters are now raising concerns to the Qataris whose aid seem to be empowering primarily Islamist leaders at the possible expense of the embryonic rebel government. In trying to present the rebels as “liberators”, the west had ignored the central role of Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists within rebel ranks until now. But Belhaj and other Islamist militia leaders say they seek only their fair share of power. Was the NTC’s  announcement that Libya’s new constitutional laws would be based on Islamic Sharia principles an attempt to appease the Islamist militia groups who have become a force to reckon with in a post-Qathafi Libya?

Reversing the Gains

In an attempt to replace a “dictatorial regime” with a “ pro-democracy” rebel government, the NATO invasion into Libya has destroyed that country’s economic and social achievements over the last 40 years. Achievements that most countries under western-style “multi-party democracy” and “good governance” can only dream of Public Health Care in Libya, for instance, was free. The best in Africa. According to FAO’s Country Profile on Libya, the country has had a high standard of living and a robust per capita daily caloric intake of 3144. Since 1980, child mortality rates have dropped from 70 per thousand live births to 19 in 2009. Life expectancy has risen from 61 to 74 years of age during the same span of years. On education, World Bank’s Country Brief on Libya reports that ‘in a relative short period of time, Libya achieved universal access for primary education, with 98% gross enrolment for secondary, and 46% for tertiary education. In the past decade, girls’ enrolment increased by 12% in all levels of education. In secondary and tertiary education, girls outnumbered boys by 10%.’

Prior to NATO’s ‘‘humanitarian intervention’’, Libya was at the implementation stage of an ambitious multi-billion dollar infrastructure development plan focused on the renovating and construction of airports, roads, housing, schools, hospitals, and water and sanitation projects nation-wide, as well as the Railway Project. An ambitious 4,800 km trans-Africa rail network planned to link Tunisia and Egypt and a southern network linking Sabha to Chad and Niger, the Railway Project was a talking point as a major infrastructural project of interest in the mold of the Great Man Made River Project, a similar mammoth undertaking by the ousted regime. In most developing countries, essential food prices have skyrocketed. Libya was one of the few countries in the developing world which maintained a system of price control over essential food staples. While rising food prices in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt spearheaded social unrest and political dissent, the system of food subsidies in Libya was fully maintained.

Cross-roads

As western powers haggle with their Qatari counterparts over what type of government is best suited for the country, Libyans on the other hand are busy, at tribal levels, consulting on the formation of a power-sharing government, oblivious of what goes on among their ‘liberators’. To the west, it would be naïve to assume that Libya would be able to peacefully evolve into a western-style democracy after more than 40 years of socialist rule with no democratic foundations in place. And the Qataris need not be reminded that a government made up of Islamist leaders  would not appease the west, no matter how democratic such a government turns out to be. But to the general masses, it is about the provision of free universal healthcare, education and even more basic necessities such as food. After all, what is the essence of democracy if such basic necessities of life cannot be accessed by all?

A Lesson for Africa?

If there is a lesson to be learnt in Africa on the Libya Uprising, it has to be Western Powers’ disregard for African States, institutions and opinions in dealing with the crisis of an African member state. One cannot help but ask, whose voice really counts when it comes to decision-making on African matters at the so-called United Nations Organization? Perhaps this is why Jean-Paul Pougala’s  analysis (http://www.rightsmonitoring.org/2011/04/why-the-west-wants-the-fall-of-gaddafi-an-analysis-in-defense-of-the-libyan-rais/ ) in which he calls on ‘‘all 50 African nations’’ to ‘‘simply quit the United Nations because this organization, by its very structure and hierarchy, is at the service of the most powerful’’ has been well received across the continent. But Pougala’s argument is not entirely new because the facts on Africa’s relationship with the west have always been known. What may be new however is the level of western insult on Africa’s integrity, as the entire continent stood accused of supporting the late leader in exchange for material gains thereby undermining the AU’s credibility within the International Community regarding the Libya crisis. Little wonder then why the voice of the AU was quick to fade into the background while the rest of the International Community passed judgment over an AU member-state.

According to Pougala, Africa’s ‘‘only way to make a point is to use the Chinese method’’, drawing parallels with ‘‘Mao’s China’’ which waited for 26 years for ‘‘China’s dignity to be respected’’. But can Pougala’s Africa afford to bite the western finger that feeds the starving continent? We do not need to be reminded of the number of African governments who depend on annual western hand-outs (including those of UN specialized agencies) to run their countries, thanks to corrupt and inept politicians who continue to plunder and siphon their nation’s wealth off to western banks abroad. The Cameroonian writer could perhaps make his case stronger by first advocating a thorough house-cleansing crusade to purge the continent of corrupt politicians and then utilize its vast resources for the common good of its people. Only then will Africans boast of real freedom and true independence. The way to restore eroded integrity. And that was how China’s dignity became respected. Not just by quitting the United Nations.

© 2011, Sheriff Bah. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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