With the protracted crisis going on in once peaceful oil rich nation of Libya, Ochiaka Ugwu asked whether the continent will ever live in peace
Following the killing of the former leader of North African nation in 2011, Muammar Gaddafi by western sponsored local militia who never knew what they were fighting for until the deed was done. Today, the once prosperous rich and peaceful nation has turned to a theatre of war with each group trying to outwit the other in a global game of diplomacy engineered and encouraged by western allies who have no better intention for the Libyans order than to control their economy. It is a well known fact that the only language they understand is oil and as far as they are concerned oil is thicker than blood. Like one analyst rightly put it, “the situation in Libya today was that Libyans are left with two options, stay in the comfort of their home and get starved to death or risk leaving the house and be killed by a roadside bomb.
The current polarization has created two parallel governments each struggling for supremacy. While the world’s attention has been turned on the appalling developments in Syria and Iraq, Libya situation is quietly degenerating to a serious conflict that will surely affect other nation in its fringes including Nigeria if allowed to continue. The committee on small arms set up by President Goodluck Jonathan has traced the source of most light weapons creeping into the country to Libya. It has even been confirmed that most arms used by Boko Haram insurgents were weapons used by Libyans during the struggle to unseat its maximum ruler Gaddafi.
Moreover, United Nations report has it that Libyan civil war might have given militant groups in Africa’s Sahel region like Boko Haram and al Qaeda access to large weapons caches. According the report on the impact of the Libyan civil war on countries of the Sahel region that straddle the Sahara – including Nigeria, Niger and Chad – also says some national authorities believe the Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has killed more than 3000 people has increasing links to al Qaeda’s North African wing.
The report also said some countries believe weapons have been smuggled into the Sahel by former fighters in Libya – Libyan army regulars and mercenaries who fought on behalf of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was ousted and killed by rebels.
Curiously, serious conflict has ensured between the country’s two rival governments for control of key institutions, military supremacy, and ultimately legitimacy. As it has descended into chaos, it has split into two broad camps. On one side is Libya Dawn, an Islamist-backed umbrella group; on the other is a renegade general, Khalifa Hifter, who is based in the eastern part of the country along with his allies.
As this power struggle has escalated, it is no longer just an internal Libyan conflict. It is now being fought regionally, with parallels to other battles playing out in North Africa and spreading to West Africa.
U.S. officials working in Libya say Egypt and the United Arab Emirates carried out secret airstrikes in recent days directed against the Islamist factions, which was first reported in The New York Times. This direct involvement in the Libyan fighting came as a surprise, though both of these countries have staked out positions opposing Islamist groups in their own countries and abroad.
Watchers of the conflict have expressed fear that outsiders picking sides may just make things worse in Libya which will eventually affect the whole continent. It suggests that an imploded Libya will have security implications for its neighbours.
Although, most countries recognise the Tobruk-based House of Representatives as Libya’s legitimate legislature, it is yet to stamp its foot as the country’s main legislative organ. It is becoming increasingly marginalised as it hunkers down in its safe house a thousand miles from the capital while domestic support shifts towards Operation Dawn, a Misrata alliance that controls the capital city Tripoli and has been able to administer it semi-competently.
Recently, the UN has pledged that the next round of discussions will include Libya’s powerful militia leaders. Although all parties are guilty of adopting polarising discourses and uncompromising positions, the majority on both sides now recognise the potential importance of these mediation efforts. Consequently, recent developments in Libya can be understood as attempts by rival factions to establish facts on the ground which can later be bartered away for a stronger position in a future negotiated settlement. Only the very few factions which will not be invited to the talks, such as Ansar Sharia or the rogue Misratan commander Salah Badi, aim to act as spoilers and derail the whole process.
The current situation has made it impossible for any of Libya’s factions to rule the whole country and it seems unlikely that any are deluded enough to think they can score a knockout blow, even if buttressed by outside help. Their seemingly lack of strength to curtail other warring parties is an issue for concern.
Furthermore, the HoR and Abdullah al-Thinni’s government are aligned with Libya’s anti-Islamist camp, spearheaded by General Khalifa Haftar who is leading Operation Dignity, a campaign against Islamist militias centred on Benghazi. Lately, Haftar renewed his offensive in Benghazi while Zintani forces in the west attempted to retake Kikla from Operation Dawn.
In recent months, both the Zintanis and Haftar’s forces have been overpowered by their Dawn opponents and this coordinated anti-Islamist offensive does not mean they suddenly believe they can beat the Islamists militarily, despite Haftar’s rhetoric.
Rather, it is a move to strengthen their position before entering peace talks or before Haftar steps down leaving the way for more institutional actors. Indeed, during the offensive the Libyan Army announced it had adopted Haftar’s Operation Dignity campaign as its own, allowing the Tobruk administration to take credit for any military advances by Haftar’s campaign, while also making clear that the body is no more legitimate than its overtly militia-aligned adversary – Operation Dawn.
In the capital, Islamist-aligned members of the former parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), and Omar al-Hassi’s National Salvation government are backed by Dawn militias. While this camp undoubtedly has the military advantage, they need greater political legitimacy to strengthen their hand, if and when, they take part in peace talks. They will not wrest international recognition away from the HoR by brute force and institutional guile alone, but by administering Tripoli coherently they may succeed in becoming legitimate participants on an almost equal footing with the HoR when negotiations begin.
The scramble for oil money is said to further tearing the war lords apart. This battle for legitimacy and power is being played out within Libya’s two most influential institutions: the Central Bank and the National Oil Corporation (NOC). The HoR voted in September to dismiss Sadiq al-Kabir from his position as Central Bank governor; however Kabir appears to still be running the bank. Through him, the Islamist-aligned government has at least some control over Libya’s finances.
Meanwhile, Hassi’s Oil Minister Mashallah al-Zwey has physically taken over the NOC headquarters in Tripoli along with the NOC website. As such, officials are reportedly taking direction from him. Indeed, the official Libyan government website has been taken over by Hassi’s National Salvation government. Those cyberspace realities go a long way to validating the Tripoli government’s claim to sovereignty and legitimacy.
Recent military moves reveal that neither side can win the battles they are fighting in Libya, but both can glean political advantage from military manoeuvres if they are able to parlay them into a successful strategy at the negotiating table.
The country is plagued with militias and a weak central government, and now armed groups are joining one side or the other in this polarized fight. Neighboring countries are alarmed that Libya’s fighting will spill over the borders.
A solution must come from within Libya, but the African Union could help by mediating in the crisis and also see to it that international community will not send additional weapons. The weapons may be intended to stabilize a government, but they end up with the militias which will further spread terror in the continent.