Saturday, February 21, 2004
The Secret Wind

If it is, it is an informal one. Britain has moved fast to convert Libya from a menace to an ally and a potential bulwark against unsavoury developments in the Maghreb. This includes an offer to train their soldiers as an incentive to complate the handover of weapons of mass destruction.

Libya has been increasing its potential influence in sub-Saharan Africa for the past decade following the power vacuum after the end of the Cold War. As a continent, Africa offered few geopolitical advantages and the great powers were willing to allow grandstanding midgets their place in the sun. This window of opportunity for Gadafy ended after 2001 when the United States sought other sources of strategic oil and ended up with interests on Libya's southern doorstep, Chad. With the object lesson of Iraq, Gadafy has seen which way the wind is blowing and has thrown in his hand with the West.

The United States and Libya are now involved in the cautious dance that leads to the normalisation of diplomatic relationships and the ending of sanctions. They have now exchanged diplomats under the respective sections protecting their interests and other restrictions are set to be reviewed or eased depending upon the progress of dismantling Libya's WMDs. It is no surprise that the Belgiums are not far behind.

The United Kingdom has developed warmer ties with Libya and, following the visit by Abdulrahman Shalgam, the Libyan Foreign Minister, on the 10th February, it has been arranged that Gadafy will meet the Blessed Leader. It is not clear how Blair will confront the odd habits of the born-again Pan-Africanist but manners will outweigh the secret wind.

When I interviewed him for the BBC four years ago and he offered to hand over the Lockerbie suspects, he was pretty weird: he wore his hat sideways and broke wind secretively but audibly during our interview. But he was also relaxed, charming and distinctly other-worldly. It may be, as many Libyans believe, that he is now much more like the constitutional figurehead he has long claimed to be.

Libya has always been an irritant rather than a menace. Gadafy is no longer the firebrand who overthrew King Idriss and it is not clear if he wields absolute power in Libya or if the party he established has attained a more independent existence, including in foreign policy.

For the United States and the United Kingdom, Libya is an attractive country to bring in from the cold. It is a North African power that has exiled itself from the constricting morass of the Arab League and can act as another source of oil. Moreover, Libya has obtained a voice in Africa and instead of creating friction with this regional power, Bush and Blair have decided to co-opt a regime that has already acted to bring African leaders into line with its own vision.

Gadafy is now "one of us".

(13.00, 21st February 2004)


Post a Comment

Blog Archive