Tag Archives: Libya

A tale of two rocket attacks

This weekend, rockets rained down on two African countries. There’s Libya, of course; front page headlines all round, especially since everyone realised that nuclear disaster in Japan would be averted. It helped that the mission had a noble name – operation “Dawn Odyssey” –  and that there were some spectacular pictures coming out of Libya.

At the same time, receiving barely a mention in the international press, Laurent Gbagbo – the authoritarian president of Cote D’Ivoire who’s refused to leave power after accidentally losing the elections (accidentally because he’d rigged them to win; he just didn’t rig them well enough. Which gives me little faith in his competence, even as a dictator) – rained down mortar on a market place in the major city of Abidjan, killing anywhere between 25 and 30 people. It’s starting to get really ugly in Cote D’Ivoire; Gbagbo also called on his supporters to “neutralise” his enemies, which is a fairly unmistakeable call to arms.

In a related story, the South African diplomatic service found itself red-faced this weekend after City Press revealed that a hoax letter, purporting to be from French president Nicholas Sarkozy, was “sold to African leaders” by the Gbagbo regime. The fake letter was used as evidence that Sarkozy put pressure on the electoral commission to declare for opposition candidate Ouattara. Despite its shady provenance, and the fact that it was written in poor French, the SA foreign ministry has been using it to support its pro-Gbagbo posturing, showing it to the EU and to Hilary Clinton.

A few questions arise. How was this letter “sold to African leaders”; and for how much? If the French really was poor – I haven’t come across a copy of the letter – this is strange because Cote D’Ivoire is a largely francophone country, as its name suggests. And why is the South African government supporting Gbagbo?

VERDICT: Gbagbo goes 4th, for murdering his own people; South Africa goes 4th, for being a bit stupid and for supporting an illegitimate ruler who murders his own people; and the international media goes 4th, for having completely blinkered priorities.

 

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The malign influence of Africa’s King of kings

As the last stand of Muammar Gaddafi plays out in blood and bullets across the Libyan desert, it’s worth remembering that Libya is the most African of the North African countries and the toppling of the green revolutionary regime will have far more impact in sub-Saharan Africa than either Mubarak’s or Ben Ali’s departures. This is no accident, or ethnic generalisation; Gaddafi, spurned by the Arab League for his increasingly eccentric ways, and their ability to see right through his blatant power grabs, deliberately turned his attention on Africa, trying to make Libya the head of a new African polity. The ‘United States of Africa’ is his dream; so is the African congress of chiefs and tribal leaders which in 2008 crowned Gaddafi Africa’s ‘King of kings‘.

This culminated, unsuccessfully, in the bizarre African Union summit last year in Kampala where he tried to get himself elected as AU Chairperson for the second time in a row, employing some of the techniques which have served him so well in Libya over the years. These techniques failed, with the AU electing Malawi’s Bingu Wa Mutharika instead (followed this year by Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, showing that it wasn’t Gaddafi’s politics that the AU had a problem with). Nonetheless, since the 1990s Gaddafi has exerted an increasing and often malign influence on the continent, and there are a few countries who might be affected by his departure.

Most obviously, there’s Chad; the two countries share a common border, which doesn’t prevent either of them from sending in the troops when the time is right. Gaddafi brought Idriss Deby, the Chadian president, to power in 1990 by supporting him financially and militarily, and continues to dabble. Deby has subsequently denounced Gaddafi for supporting Chadian rebels trying to overthrow him.

Gaddafi supported these particular rebels, based in Chad’s far east, because of their proximity to Sudan, and the support they were able to give to another of his interests – the rebels in Darfur, particularly the Justice and Equality Movement, whose leader Khalil Ibrahim continues, as far as I can make out, to enjoy the comforts of exile in Tripoli after being denied entry to Chad.

Most controversially, if true, are unconfirmed reports that Gaddafi was sponsoring the Unity Party of Liberian president and Western media darling Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. This news surfaced at around the same time that Sirleaf announced her intention to run for office again – within her constitutional mandate, to be sure, but in violation of a very specific campaign promise she made to serve only one term. The two leaders are also alleged to be personal friends.

This is just a sampling; there are undoubtedly more African governments and political groupings that have been enjoying Gaddafi’s largesse, and his departure may well see a subtle rearranging of Africa’s own political landscape. Unless someone else steps in to fill the void.

VERDICT: A Gaddafi-less African can only be a good thing. His departure goes forth.

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Better a king than a president in the Middle East

Can a king be a king without a crown? Yes say kings Al-Khalifa of Bahrain and Abdulla II of Jordan. (Pic: LIFE)

In the end, titles are important, especially if you are a despotic Middle Eastern ruler. A quick survey shall illustrate:

Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Libya: all run by Presidents-for-life. The protests which have rocked/are rocking these countries, while very different in origin and nature, have a common theme – they all demand the exit of the president himself.

Bahrain, Jordan*: both run by monarchs. I’m not too sure about Bahrain, but certainly in Jordan the King is the centre of power. Yet in both these countries the protesters have been very careful to emphasise that they are not protesting the monarch, but rather the government (which was appointed by the monarch). One protestor (a Bahraini blogger) tweeted today: “Just to clear things up, nobody wants AlKhalifa [the king] out. Hell, I would rather they rule Bahrain than anyone else. We just want our rights.”

It’s a curious position. While presidents-for-life have their legitimacy conferred by rigged elections, monarchs have theirs conferred by the pomp and ceremony of royalty, but their powers and influence on the state amount to much the same thing. But, right now at least, I’d rather be a king than a president – if, of course, I was an authoritarian Middle Eastern ruler trying to maintain a firm grip on power. Which I’m not.

* It will be interesting to see what the protestors in Morocco are going to say, another monarchy with big protests planned for Feb 20th.

** An underestimated side-benefit of monarchy is the ability to pass on power to your son without question (it’s always the son). Mubarak had such problems trying to prepare Egypt to accept his son Gamal as president; if he’d merely been handing the crown over, would there have been any fuss at all?

***This whole theory failed miserably for the Shah of Iran, the last Czar, and Louis XVI. Or perhaps they were just so bad that even their royal aura couldn’t help them.

VERDICT: Titles go forth, says Dr. Third World Goes Forth.

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Brother Leader to sponsor Johnson-Sirleaf’s re-election? Libya-Liberia ties go 4th

An intriguing sentence in a recent Africa Confidential report on Liberia: “Unity Party insiders hope for tens of millions of dollars from Libya’s Moammar el Gadaffi.” The Unity Party is, of course, the party of incumbent president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who has recently announced she will be running for a second term. Quite why her party is waiting on tens of millions of dollars from Brother Leader Gaddafi is somewhat mystifying. A quick trawl through the depths of Google produced little of substance, except to show that Johnson-Sirleaf and Gaddafi have a close and friendly relationship, with Johnson-Sirleaf even defending Gaddafi’s crazy behaviour at last year’s African Union summit. The Libyan leader stormed out of proceedings when it became clear that his vision of a United States of Africa would not be immediately realised. According to Johnson-Sirleaf: “He didn’t walk out, he just got tired.” An excessive thirst for power will do that to you.

Still, the exact nature of the relationship between these two leaders is unclear, and potentially disturbing; any clarification would be welcomed.

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