Muammar Qaddafi bought influence in Africa in the past four decades with investments in everything from chicken farms to rebel movements. That flow of funds to some of the world’s poorest countries may be about to end.
The Libyan ruler’s bid to create a “United States of Africa” is in tatters after the opposition seized half of his country and members of his administration, including key members of the diplomatic corps, deserted him. His efforts to crush a two-week uprising were condemned yesterday by the 192-member United Nations General Assembly.
“Assuming Qaddafi is finished you’re going to have a very different role that Libya plays whoever is in charge vis-a-vis the rest of sub-Saharan Africa,” David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, said in a phone interview from Washington. “Libya will become over the next couple of years a very modest player in African affairs.”
After failing to win support for his dream of pan-Arab unity in the 1990s, Qaddafi, 68, used his oil wealth to reinvent himself as an African leader. He set up the $5 billion Libya Africa Investment Portfolio in 2006, investing in countries as far apart as Madagascar and Rwanda, and adopted the title of “King of Kings” two years later.
The funds helped him win the presidency of the African Union in 2009, though his attempt to extend his tenure by another year failed to win support. Neither did his call for a continental political federation.
In 1998, the Libyan leader created the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, a region that stretches across North Africa. It now includes 28 nations and boasts its own investment bank, policy council and plans for a regional Olympic-style athletic competition to be hosted in Chad’s capital, N’djamena.
Creating the regional group “was his way of providing aid and investment to member nations,” said Shinn. “They saw it as a way of getting largesse out of Libya. I would not be a bit surprised if that organization collapses.”
Qaddafi’s push for African unity only started after Arab nations complied with UN-sanctions against Libya in response to its bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
South African President Nelson Mandela visited Libya while it was under sanctions, greeting Qaddafi as “my brother leader” and praising him for his help in the fight against apartheid. Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Laurent Kabila also visited Qaddafi.
‘King of Kings’
“It mattered to him politically that these African countries were willing to act independently of those sanctions,” said Nana Ampofo, an analyst with Songhai Advisors.
Qaddafi’s oil funds have left his name stamped across the continent; from the Gaddafi Mosque in Uganda to the Khadafi Square in Mauritius’ capital, Port Louis. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has five camels given by Qaddafi on his farm.
Qaddafi’s pan-African ambitions were highlighted by his coronation as ‘‘King of Kings” of Africa during a 2008 ceremony in the eastern city of Benghazi attended by a group of African traditional leaders wearing gold crowns and colorful robes.
In a speech to the UN in September 2009, Qaddafi, bearing the silhouette of the African continent on his tunic, demanded a permanent seat for the African Union on the Security Council.
Qaddafi also praised the election of U.S. President Barack Obama as an achievement for Africa envisaged in the Green Book, his 1975 tome of revolutionary philosophy.
“Wherever you have blacks, they despise us,” Qaddafi said in a speech to African Union leaders in 2009. “But the Green Book says that black people will prevail over the world and today the Kenyan son has imposed himself over the United States of America.”
Qaddafi was willing to back up his rhetoric on Africa with money. The Libya Africa Investment Portfolio has stakes in gasoline stations in Cameroon and Ethiopia, mobile-phone networks in Rwanda and Ivory Coast and a 506,000-hectare logging concession and sawmill in the Republic of Congo, according to its website. It also has shares in mining companies in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and poultry farms in Togo and Madagascar.
Of the investments, “most were made with an eye towards Qaddafi’s international politics,” said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, a political analyst with New York-based DaMina Advisors, in an e-mail. “Ironically, almost all of them are sound economic investments.”
Years before his African unity drive, Qaddafi funded rebels opposed to former Chadian President Hissene Habre in the 1980s, according to the U.S. State Department, and his soldiers helped Central African Republic President Ange-Felix Patasse thwart a coup in 2001.
Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh and former Liberian President Charles Taylor also trained in Libya prior to civil wars in those countries in the 1990s.
Violence is now returning to define Qaddafi. The only political legacy of his investment campaign may be the alleged African mercenaries helping to keep him in power in Tripoli.
“His vision for a unified Africa went nowhere,” said Tibor Nagy, a former U.S. ambassador to Guinea and Ethiopia, in an e-mailed response to questions. “Most African leaders consider Qaddafi a buffoon and a clown.”