Libya in north Africa means many things to many people — Libyans, Africans, Europeans, Asians and Americans. For the Libyans themselves, following the tragic demise of their long-reigning dictator, Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi, it was like a ‘paradise’ of a beautiful country lost. For other Africans (Nigerians included) Libya represents a state torn apart between organized terrorism, chaos and anarchy. To the Europeans and Americans Libya is a failed state without any strong institution still left standing. The former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose NATO-sanctioned military intervention in Libya saw to the demystification and liquidation of the maximum eccentric leader, was accused in France of receiving millions of Dollars from Ghaddafi for his failed re-election bid only for him to play Brutus by taking out Ghaddafi!
Generally-speaking, however, Libya seems to possess this destabilizing force, nay connection, between the terrorism ravaging the sub-Saharan African countries (not excluding Nigeria) and this enduring instability at the home front. The late Ghaddafi may not have been mourned much like the Nigerian late vile dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, but post-Ghaddafi peace, unity and development has since eluded the country.
Again, Libya is globally notorious for her human smuggling transit points to Europe by sea. Thousands of Africans and other nationals had succeeded migrating clandestinely to Europe using Libya as a departure point. But thousands more (including our compatriots) had perished navigating the perilous Mediterranean waters for Europe! Europe by road and sea without passport or visa remains an international criminal money-spinning business worth billions of Dollars!
When the late Ghaddafi was in power, to be fair to his memory, a semblance of stability prevailed for decades as he used state terrorism and intimidation and blackmail to keep the opposition at bay. His was a ruthless dictatorship that tolerated little or no dissent. Flamboyant and erratic, if not narcissistic, the strongman was worshipped as a Lord of the Manor by majority of his people!
Ghaddafi, the destined son of an itinerant Bedouin farmer, seized power through a military coup that deposed the late King Idris on September 1, 1969. For more than four decades he survived every attempt at rebellion while sponsoring rebellion elsewhere. He brutalized and jailed opponents. He was accused by the Western powers of sponsoring the Lockerbie bombing in Scotland.
On December 21, 1988, it would be recalled, a Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York had exploded in mid-air over Lockerbie town, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard as well as 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground! Ghaddafi denied any involvement as Western sanctions were put into place to bring him to book.
One of the controversial features of his dictatorship had to do with his all-female bodyguards! Well-trained and ‘castrated’ the ladies were always the cynosure of all eyes in every nation they visited accompanying the expired maximum ruler, including Nigeria. He did many bizzare things and was involved in many controversies, some local and others across the borders.
One of his sons, Saif al-Islam, has had dates with the justice system in his native land over accusations of graft and executive banditry following his father’s demise. He was once jailed and once out, free, Saif had been jostling to play Ghaddafi junior by imposing his presidential will on Libyans. Saif had desperately sought to play the father-son transition as was the case in many countries African. But pulling it off had been a herculean task.
When President Omar Bongo Ondimba died in Gabon the diminutive crafty despot was immediately replaced by a Bongo, Ali. He is still in power in Libreville despite having suffered a devastating stroke that nearly sent him ‘home’ to meet Bongo the father. When President Laurent Desire Kabila was assassinated inside his office in Kinshasa Joseph Kabila took up the mantle of leadership. He ruled the DR Congo for more than a decade.
Kabila Junior proved to be a modern kleptocrat who stole millions of Dollars in what a consortium of international investigative journalists tagged “Congo Hold-Up”, a multi-million Dollars fiscal scandal involving Kabila and many of his cronies, home and abroad.
When the Togolese dictator, Gnassingbe Eyadema died in office (despite his strong fetish powers) Faure Gnassingbe Eyadema took over power. He is still on the saddle manipulating the constitution and the opposition to remain the strongman in Lome.
In Chad the late Marshal Idris Deby Itno was allegedly killed on the war front. Hours later his young son, Gen. Mahamat Deby was sworn in as the new Transition President. The Deby loyalists in the army, Generals et al, appointed the young Deby to head the government following renunciation by the then Prime Minister who ordinarily, according to the constitutional succession hierarchy, ought to succeed the fallen Marshal Deby.
Saif Ghaddafi was not able to impose himself because of the complexity and peculiarity of Libya and the brutal bloody history of Ghaddafi the father’s stewardship.
For Ghaddafi Muammar, his timely departure to the great beyond was both a blessing and a curse for his compatriots. Blessing in the sense that he had overstayed his welcome with blood, anguish and sorrow trailing his decades hold on central power. A curse however because all international efforts at reconciliation stabilizing the system had all failed. It was one philosopher who once said that “not all easy environment is a blessing”.
Libyans under Ghaddafi lived well, opulently as abundance in everything was an overstatement. But today the falcon can no longer hear the falconer and the centre unable to hold.
General Khalifa Haftar had this ambition of imposing himself with the force of arms as the new strongman in town but he had met stiff resistance from rival groups and factions. The rule of arms prevails!
With huge resources (especially oil and gas) at his possession the late Ghaddafi suffered no fools gladly. The management of power under his tyranny was a well-organized terror machine which took pleasure in killing, looting and plundering of state resources. Accountability was non-existent as no one or group dared question what the strong man was doing with the state commonwealth.
He ran a rogue state and died sadly without any opportunity for justice to be done to the memories of many of his victims. One of his aides, speaking anonymously, had once claimed that his late boss was a “good cocaine sniffer”!
Lately, two rival governments headed by two Prime Ministers are battling it out for power and control in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. On one hand you have Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh, appointed Interim Prime Minister of Libya in February 2021 and internationally recognized supervising a Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU). And on the other hand you have got Fathi Bashagha, the ex-Interior Minister in the former Government in Tripoli, nominated as Prime Minister-designate of a new Government of National Stability.
Two armed and dangerous parallel governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, competing violently for legitimacy. Bloody violence flared up recently in Tripoli as forces loyal to each camp struggled to gain momentum. Scores were wounded and dozens killed as sporadic gunfire rocked the neighbourhoods of Tripoli for days!
Since the country remains a nation ruled by armed gangs and militias it is not easy to maintain any control whatsoever. General elections had been scheduled and cancelled due to inability to reach a consensus. Gen. Hafter is alleged to be supporting one of the factions.
Back home in Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari, known for his executive buck-passing, had blamed the terrorism and galloping insecurity (including kidnapping and banditry) on the proliferation of arms and ammunitions from Libya. To some extent, to be fair to him, that assertion is true but on a broader perspective the embattled President is confessing his mediocrity and powerlessness. His abysmal failure to secure the lives and properties of Nigerians must be blamed on something or somebody!
Between the chaos and anarchy in Libya, therefore, the international community must intensify efforts at bringing the warring parties to a negotiating table. As long as Libya remains unstable the sub-Saharan African countries bordering her would continue to experience terrorism and instability.
The ultimate solution to the Libyan quagmire may appear complicated, if not hopeless, but it is not impossible. Let the warring parties (and other critical stakeholders including the dormant civil society groups) be brought to an electoral consensus. Organizing a free and fair general elections (including the presidential one) remains an imperative way out of the impasse.
Let Libya not die like Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi!