Africa in Danger: Chaos in Libya
Libya is no longer a state. Yesterday, on November 15, a fresh round of infighting broke out in the city of Tripoli. This clash between government backed militias that hail from Misrata and Zawya, fighting under the banner of the “Libya Shields,” and the Zintans militia backed by the powerful Bedouin tribe has been labeled the worst fighting in the capital since the war that ousted former Libyan strong man Muammar Kaddafi just over two years ago. This latest clash has taken the lives of over 40 people and wounded near, if not over, 500, and has gone on many days since the death of Nuri Friwan, the leader of a Misrata based militia who died of wounds nearly 10 days ago on November 7. Since then, infighting has gotten out of hand as one group seeks to exact revenge on another – leaving the civilians in the middle questioning the violence and the need for these militias, that they see as validated goons, given the green light to compose chaos at the behest of the “central” government.
Yesterday’s fighting broke out after several hundred civilians began marching on the headquarters of the Misrata militias to protest the continuing violence. This protest put the warlords on edge, and led to increased violence. Right now, the people of Tripoli face increased uncertainty as militias from outside the city are attempting to enter the action, on one side or another, to insure that they do not miss an opportunity to grab or defend power and leverage over the failed central government. The failed government is not only impacting the people of the capital, it is also bringing about great changes throughout the entire country. Five days ago, loosely aligned militias in the east of the country established their own oil company, after seizing the oil fields and outflanking the central government. To quote Clifford Krauss of The New York Times, this move has made the government in Tripoli “look increasingly impotent.” In a country that receives 90% of its revenue from energy production, this move does not bode well for the future of a united Libya.
With very little to no actual power on the ground, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has attempted to turn to the international community for help. “The international community,” he said in a recent speech, “cannot tolerate a state on the Mediterranean that is a source of violence, terror, and murder.” The problem is, the international community at this time does not have the stomach to intervene in Libya, even though there is an increasing immigration problem, with people fleeing the failed state across the Mediterranean, and suspected terrorists are moving freely in and out of the country. The European Union, and individual EU states, have already poured millions of Euros into the central government in an attempt to provide aid, but the aid is doing very little to effect the situation on the ground. Instead, the majority of the European aid is towards training the central government’s bureaucracy – something that should be done, but at the same time, it will be a tremendous waste of investment if the central government cannot enforce the law, or corral the independent militias that are abusing their recognition by the central government to impose checkpoints and wage war against rival warlords.
The international community must either support the central government completely, or they must begin to validate regional leaders if they wish to end the economic and political chaos that is engulfing the country. The strikes and occupations that have engulfed the Libyan port cities has cost the “state” $6 billion, and has begun to effect, according to a report released by IOL News, “power supplies in the North African country, where political chaos is also affecting funding for wheat imports.” The European Union must both cut off the failed central government, and endorse the regional leaders by trading food for oil, or invest in infrastructure for oil – thereby creating regional states. Or, the European Union must provide training and military aid to the central government so they can begin to build a state military that can rival the militias that continue to hold the country hostage. When the United States began building the Afghan National Army, they made the mistake of using the militias and recruits from the northern ethnic Tajiks. By having a regional, ethnic army, NATO has had increased difficulty selling the ANA as a national army, because many Afghans, especially those in the south, do not view the force as their army, instead the ANA is viewed an occupying force. Today in Libya we are seeing the same problem. One part of the country is being pitted against another. If the European Union wants to provide stability to Libya, they need to help bust the militias, and use the increasing anti-militia sentiment by the civilian population as a tool to create a national movement.
Whatever choice the EU decides to take, they have the moral responsibility to provide peace to the region. It is the EU that called upon the United States and NATO to take action against Kaddafi in 2011, and it is the EU that now has to bear the responsibility of bringing peace to the region. The 2011 war has already had direct ramifications in Mali, the Central African Republic, and Nigeria, as the weapons once held in the compounds of Libya, have begun to move across the Sahara Desert, and are falling into the hands of ethnic groups and religious fanatics that wish to wage war against their central governments. Africa is a powder keg of regional differences and old blood feuds, and Libya may very well be the fuse that is going to set the whole continent ablaze. It is the obligation of the western world to use their superior technology and economic abilities to insure peace in Africa. For far too long the western world has been comfortable in their short term commitments – now, it is time for the western world to bear the responsibility for the chaos that they have wrought. By overthrowing Kaddafi, the western world has kicked a bee hive, sending heavy weaponry into stagnated conflicts. These weapons are turning the tide against underfunded central states in the middle of Africa that cannot afford to arm their state militaries with similar arms. We can both end the conflict in Libya and begin collecting the heavy weaponry now or we can allow the situation to continue to spiral out of control, as we play catch-up from Bamako to Bangui, from Juba to Kinshasa.