The killing of Moammar Gaddafi at the hands of his enemies, with NATO military assistance, on October 20th, marks a major landmark in the country’s ongoing strife. Whether these events lead to peace and stability or persistent violence is a question that the international community and Libya’s African neighbors must seriously ponder.
Three plausible scenarios can be stretched. The first possibility is the imposition of a tripartite neo-imperial trusteeship by the US, the UK and France. Having intervened to bring about the defeat the Gaddafi regime and his physical demise, the three powers with their associates in Europe and the Middle East might feel a moral obligation to shape the country’s future. They are likely to be further impelled to influence the outcome by the financial resources that they have expended in this enterprise.
The financial costs of military intervention in Libya have been estimated at $1-2 billion for the United States and just under $1 billion each for the UK and France. The London Telegraph (October 22, 2011) has reported that Philip Hammond, the British Defense Secretary, has stated that since Britain had played a central role in toppling the Gaddafi regime, “British companies should seek a central role in the reconstruction of Libya too” The paper also indicated that British officials “say they are concerned that companies from other European countries, especially France and Italy, are lobbying aggressively for deals in post-Gaddafi Libya.”
One of the ways in which NATO countries might seek to guarantee their interests would be through a major UN presence involving policing and economic reconstruction. A possible obstacle would be the development of a nationalist and Islamic resistance to such trusteeship.
A second plausible, but less likely scenario in the short-to-medium term is the steady evolution towards accountable and reasonably liberal democratic governance. This is the vision that the NTC is proclaiming to the international community. Prospects for the quick achievement of this goal are dimmed by the fact that the NTC leadership does not directly control the armed groups that have been fighting the supporters of Gaddafi; the latter’s willingness to engage in violations of fundamental rights of their real or perceived opponents, reflected in ethnic and racial cleansing, summary executions of captives, massive imprisonment and abuse of Sub-Saharan migrant workers and Black Libyans, especially from Tawarga, without any judicial process; and looting and deliberate destruction of the property of those perceived to be “enemies” in Sirte, Ben Walid and other places. The decision of the insurgents to desecrate and publicly display the half-naked corpse of Gaddafi in Misrata must also raise serious questions about the ethical values of those who would be participants in the creation of the new order in Libya.
The third possible scenario is the persistence and even increase of civil strife. This would be the result of a number of interrelated factors including divisions among insurgents on ideological (secularists vs. Islamists); regional (West vs. East); ethnic (Berbers vs. Arabs); race (“Brown” vs. “Black” Libyans) and political (e.g. those who collaborated with Gaddafi vs. those who were out of the country or were internal opponents of the regime) grounds. Equally important is the possibility of armed opposition combining the surviving Gaddafi supporters, oppressed ethnic and racial groups and others who might find the climate of insecurity and vengeance intolerable.
Which of these scenarios comes to prevail will have a major impact on Libya’s neighbors especially Algeria, Niger, Sudan and Chad. In Mali, there are already reports of a new rebellion launched by fighters returning from Libya. Weapons and battle-hardened fighters who might engage in rebellion against some of those governments have been entering via the country’s southern and south-western borders. Algeria has had a Berber rebellion in the past and could face another one. There are also Islamic groups in the Sahel who could benefit from the instability and availability of modern and sophisticated weapons.
There is moral and political imperative for the publics of the NATO powers, the United Nations, the African Union and human rights and humanitarian organizations to press the international community to put the interests of ordinary people in Libya and the larger region above their immediate material and political interests. Positive change in Libya will require the more active involvement of UN members outside the small circle of NATO, Turkey and their allies in the Arab world. Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa must assume their international responsibilities. In the meantime, the most urgent task is to save the vulnerable in Libya—now.
By Edward Kannyo is a lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, College of Liberal Arts