Libya: Empire’s lessons for Africa

By Mkhosana Mathobela Bingweni

SOCIAL misery and political chaos walk on two legs in Tripoli. Multitudes queue up for days in front of banks waiting to withdraw their own cash. Darkness reigns as power cuts have become the order of the day; poverty and hunger have enveloped the country as prices of basic commodities have tripled since 2011.

On Tuesday, October 18, 2016, the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation authoritatively reported that in the majority, Libyans now painfully miss Muammar Gaddafi and the order and control he brought to the country. Gaddafi is painfully missed by the multitudes of Libyans as the UN-backed unity government is failing to restore order and calm in the North African country where a multiplicity of militias including so-called Islamic extremist groups are battling for control.

In a strong way, the social misery and political chaos that is playing out in Libya represents the general economic anarchy and political decay to which Africa at large has been sentenced by the hegemonic Euro-American powers that presently rule the world. For Libya, as it is for the rest of Africa, the wealth of natural resources, the bounty of oil that runs under the feet of the Libyans, has become a curse instead of the blessing that it was supposed to be.

Much earlier in July 2001, Gaddafi told an African Union gathering that Europe and America had an evil conspiracy to cut North Africa away from Africa, draw it towards the Middle East and eventually make it an annex of Europe all for the scramble for oil and other natural resources that North Africa boasts. True to Gaddafi’s understanding, earlier in 1995, a dubious and secretive Euro-Mediterranean Declaration, also called the Barcelona Agreement, was reached between the European Union and some North African countries to ensure “free trade” and “money transfers” amongst other activities that included “cultural partnerships.” Simply, it was rapacious Euro-American imperialism dressed as globalisation and diplomatic internationalism.

What Gaddafi publicly lamented in 2001 is a political and economic conspiracy against North Africa and Africa that has been afoot for many decades, an attempt to make oil rich North Africa a province of Europe and America, under the guise of modernist globalisation and internationalism. This scramble for access to the wealth of the North Africans was for many years accompanied by a flourish of journalism and scholarship in Europe and America that argued that North Africa was not part of Africa. The history of the North Africans was turned and twisted to suit the urgent appetites of Empire for oil.

The Arab Spring

As in the rest of Africa and the Global South, where Empire cannot win with disinformation, propaganda and persuasion, the force of arms becomes the last resort. All North African leaders that were not persuaded to the idea of turning their countries into provinces of Empire had to go by every possible guise. Ben Ali of Tunisia was sent packing to Saudi Arabia as the Tunisian multitudes demanded his ouster and head early in 2011. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was the next to be toppled. Less than a week after the toppling of Mubarak, on February 15, 2011, demonstrations and protests began in Libya, in the marginal Benghazi part that had always felt oppressed and persecuted under the leadership of Gaddafi, starting in 1969.

Loopholes and weaknesses in African leadership, the marginalisation and persecution of some communities become, as in the case of Libya, an entry point for Empire to use NATO to dethrone African regimes. After the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo, the United Nations came up with the idea of the Responsibility to Protect, a resolution that says countries of the world through the United Nations have a responsibility to protect citizens of any country in the world when they come under attack from their own leadership.

Under the Responsibility to Protect mantra, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 of 2011 was cobbled together and under the slogan by “all necessary means”  stolen from Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” and twisted by Empire, Libya was invaded culminating in the ultimate murder of Gaddafi. In all this, the African Union was totally ignored. On March 10, 2011, the African Union at its 265th Meeting of the Peace and Security Council had recommended a ceasefire in Libya, protection for civilians, humanitarian aid and protection for foreign workers among many interventions including the suggestion of a transitional government while dialogue between Gaddafi and the rebels was to be promoted.

The African voice was ignored, the initiative of African solutions for African problems was put aside as NATO had bombing to do and regime change to urgently carry out. As this was happening, an artisanal black American scholar, Horace Campbell, uncovered that black people in Libya came under attack. Black Africans were tortured and killed in numbers, probably an attempt to erase the proof that Libya was an African country. What started in North Africa as a spring where multitudes rose up against the ruling regimes ended as a Euro-American Summer of the harvest of resources.

Lesson for Africa

Part of the title of Horace Campbell’s good book, NATO’s Failure in Libya, of 2012, has the words “lessons for Africa.” It is not enough to understand that what happened and what is happening in Libya is happening at different levels and scales of intensity in almost every African country. In the name of globalisation and modernist internationalism, every African country is being persuaded or pressurised to turn its resources over to Empire.

African liberation movements and their governments must glean urgent lessons from the Arab Spring that turned into a Euro-American Summer. Horace Campbell observes that in October 1935, the League of Nations, predecessor to the UN, had collapsed because it failed to stop the Italian invasion of Abyssinia as Europe was in deep economic and political depression. Interestingly, in the 2011 eruption of the Arab Spring, Euro-America was experiencing another economic and political depression.

Horace Campbell reminds us of Nicholas Sarkozy’s cry that the Euro was by any means necessary supposed to be saved from collapse as the Global Financial Crisis bit deep. An American Congressman, William Jefferson, as cited by Horace Campbell, said at the time “African oil should be treated as a priority for US national security post 9/11.” When Gaddafi fell, Campbell notes, a British scholar David Anderson celebrated the “significant pickings” of oil and other resources that European and American companies stood to gain from North Africa. Otherwise every economic and political depression in Europe and North America results in the maximisation of the exploitation of Africa and her resources.

Gaddafi was killed at a time when relations between Libya and the Euro-American Empire had significantly improved from their bitter and sour past. Beside the Lockerbie bombing saga where a Pan American World Airways flight was downed with close to 300 fatalities, in the 1970s Libya nationalised its oil resources, Iran followed in 1979 and Saudi Arabia quickly took up the example in the 1980s.

Gaddafi was not forgiven for setting such an example and dealing Empire and its resource imperialism such a blow. Empire does not forget, nor does it forgive. Even as he fell, Gaddafi had learnt the lesson well that Africa must unite and build its own democracy and peace regimes that would protect the poor and marginalised peoples of Africa, and not give Empire a humanitarian excuse to invade and recolonise the continent.

Mkhosana Mathobela Bingweni writes from South Africa