Libyan Influence in the Sahel

Yesterday the International Crisis Group released a media briefing on Libyan influence in Chad called “Beyond Political Influence.” Tracing the history of this connection from 1969 to the present, ICG argues a large change took place in 2003:

Tripoli, Libya

Because of Chad’s internal political crisis, the deterioration of the Chad-Sudan relationship and the emergence of the Darfur crisis, Libya has been able since 2003 to solidify its position as a powerbroker. It used its links to the armed opposition on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border to become the principal mediator between the rebel factions, and it helped re-establish contact between N’Djamena and Khartoum, in the process perhaps preventing what could have been a direct war between the two regimes with disastrous regional consequences.

However, Libya’s diplomatic successes in Chad have been short-lived, due to a lack of focus on longer-term reforms and its difficulty in tolerating the contributions of other regional or wider international players in its quest to dominate its neighbourhood. Tripoli rarely uses its authority to force the parties to stick to the deals it brokers, and those parties always suspect a hidden agenda behind the diplomacy, since Gaddafi makes little secret of the desire for his mediations to advance geostrategic ambitions. At the same time, the Chadian government uses Libya’s good offices to co-opt armed opponents, who in turn try to make the most personal profit out of the peace deals. Lastly, the lack of coordination between Libyan and other peace initiatives has led to a struggle for influence that has allowed the protagonists to play the several interlocutors against each other.

I am just starting to learn about Libya’s influence in the region as a whole, so I am trying to fit ICG’s work with the other puzzle pieces I’ve seen. Qaddhafi obviously looms large in the region, from his (recently non-renewed) AU chairmanship to his role as a broker in accords between Sahelian governments and Tuareg rebels. Libya’s attempts to exert influence in Sahelian and central African countries have not always gone smoothly, producing backlash in the Central African Republic and elsewhere. But Libya retains real diplomatic clout with many of its neighbors to the south. Libya exercises this influence in large part, the State Department and others have suggested, through its financial and oil resources.

With this background in mind, I am also wondering how Libyan actions affect counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel. Yesterday I also ran across a report that Libya had released over 200 Islamist prisoners, including a few dozen with ties to al Qaeda. At a time when counterterrorism policies are in flux at the national and international level throughout the Sahel and North Africa – from Mali’s ransom payments/hostage exchanges with AQIM to Mauritania’s “prison dialogues” to more hardline approaches – could Libya’s turn to rehabilitative strategies affect other countries’ thinking on the issue? Or am I connecting dots where no connections obtain?

Whatever the case, I would like to start following Libya’s regional relations more systematically. Any reading recommendations from commenters would be greatly appreciated.

4 thoughts on “Libyan Influence in the Sahel

  1. I’ve wondered for some time when (if) we outside the conflicts will ever know the full backstory of the early 2009 Mali/Niger peace negotiations. Algeria had taken a prime role in 2008, but it was Libyan mediation which brought a rather abrupt halt two two – apparently independent – insurgencies in short order.

    My informed speculation is that Libya was involved in touching off and arming the ADC and MNJ groups, though it was local politics, ideologies, inter-ethnic conflict, and economic discrimination which provided the reasons.

    I hope others don’t think I am taking a conspiratorial turn when I say that without Qaddhaffi and a few other leaders who fancy themselves region kingpins (Compaoré, Gbagbo, Bashir) West and Central Africa would be much more stable, if no more just.

  2. I suggest Burr and Millard’s Africa’s Thirty Years’ War, which was re-issued, expanded and marketed as a book about Darfur. It’s not. Or at least it’s not only or even primarily a book about Darfur. The whole region is seen as it relates to the Chadian civil wars, and Libyan intervention is discussed at length. Unfortunately, the re-issue just included another section tacked on to the end without a review and/or revision of the first part, which still includes some mistakes, typographical and otherwise.

    All that to say, though, that it’s really worth the read, if you haven’t already checked it out.

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