In March 2011, following a hastily (but not unanimously) passed UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to impose a "no-fly zone" over Libya, Western forces invaded Libya from the skies. The resolution purported to prevent Colonel Gaddafi's government from committing atrocities on its own people. Nevertheless, within a week NATO forces unleashed more than 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles (each costing USD 1 million) and heavy bombardment at buildings, roads, farmlands, bridges, airports and other infrastructure in Libya. In the process, more than 100 civilians were killed and more than 200 were wounded as reported on Libyan State TV. This prompted Western governments to immediately impose an information blackout on media coverage of civilian casualty, realizing that the purported purpose of imposing a "no-fly zone" to protect civilian lives had been defeated.
As I'm writing this now, the invasion is still continuing. Backed by so-called Libyan rebels on the ground, the Western invaders, led mainly by the US and NATO members Britain and France, have taken control of most of Eastern Libya including Benghazi and are on their way to the capital, Tripoli, in the Western part of the country. In less than a month, any of the following three or even more scenarios might occur. The first one would be that the Libyan army might abandon the countryside where they can be easily targeted and turn to urban guerrilla warfare in Tripoli and other major western cities like Misrata. The second scenario would be that Colonel Gaddafi's government would be overthrown (not without massive resistance though) and he would either disappear temporarily a la Saddam or be killed or captured (if he does not flee Libya as he says he will not do). The third scenario would be that a puppet government would be installed by the West, ruling from either Benghazi in the East or Tripoli in the West.
A number of questions may arise as a result of these outcomes, but we can address just a couple of them here. 1. What are the implications of this for the revolution and political democratization in Libya and North Africa? 2. What are the more general implications for African sovereignty with yet another Western, imperialist invasion in Africa?
Libya borders two countries with some of the most successful recent democratization movements in Africa: Tunisia and Egypt. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that began effectively in January and February 2011 respectively should not be seen as a so-called Middle East phenomenon (indeed, terms like "Near East", "Middle East" and "Far East" [near or far from where?] are outdated Eurocentric notions that no longer mean anything in the era of globalization) but as part of a wave of democratization that began in Sub-Saharan Africa with countries like Botswana, Ghana, and South Africa. While there are still a few notorious dictatorships, there are now far more democratic countries in Africa south of the Sahara than there were 20 years ago but none in North Africa until recently, so the events are more of an African lesson than a "Middle East" contagion that Africa's Maghreb is experiencing. Indeed, the fact that the recent political upheavals in the Arab world began, and are more successful, in predominantly Arab-speaking African countries is further testimony that this is more of an African revolution than a "Middle East" revolution. Tunisia and Egypt are examples of democratization that Africa can take pride in.
But soon this African pride may be threatened by the setting up of a puppet regime in Libya by the West. A genuine revolution is a rapid socio-political change of a polity by the people for the people of that polity. The political changes in Tunisia were accomplished by the people of Tunisia for the people of Tunisia. Is there a genuine revolution in Tunisia? Yes. The political changes that were initiated in Egypt were initiated by the people of Egypt for the people of Egypt. Is there a revolution in Egypt? Yes. The political changes that are taking place in Libya were initiated by the people of Libya but unfortunately they have been hijacked by the Western invaders. The political changes are no longer in the hands of Libyans but are now decided in Washington and other European capitals in the interests of the rapacious invaders and their local collaborators, not those of the Libyan nation as a whole. Is there a revolution in Libya? No, not yet! Not until the Libyan people in a post-Gaddafi era rise up against the puppet government that might be installed by the US and its NATO allies. The revolution in Libya has been deferred.
More crucially, what are the implications of a Western-installed puppet government for the two successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and for potential ones in Algeria, Morocco and beyond? The analyses suggest that the West is quite jittery about the governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Thus by installing a puppet regime in Libya, they would create a “spy window” from which they would be keenly watching development in North Africa. A puppet government in Libya installed by the Western invaders would obviously threaten genuine political change in North Africa.
Finally, what are the more general implications for African sovereignty with yet another Western, imperialist invasion of Africa? Western countries continue to invade African countries and meddle in their internal affairs with impunity even in the new century. Centuries of slave trade involving buying and selling of Africans right from the 16th to the 19th century, and decades of colonization and neo-colonialism in the 20th century are more than enough to hurt African pride and dignity. And yet Euro-American imperialism is still dominating even in the new, 21st century. How can Africa begin to find a way to put an end to Western aggression? These are analyses that indicate that Africa must begin to invest in self-defense technologies. From now onwards, African countries must incorporate self-defense technological development as an important aspect of their development goals so that in the next 20 to 100 years no foreign power dare attack Africa and prevent the painful events that are happening in Libya now. Africans must learn from China, India, Brazil, Russia, Israel and other countries that have developed self-defense technologies to the extent that Western powers will think carefully before they consider attacking them. It is very humiliating to watch Western military officers on TV boasting during the day about the havoc they inflicted on a sovereign African country like Libya the previous night by unleashing Tomahawk cruise missiles and massive bombs! And despite voices of protest all around the world, including some parts of the West, the bombs are still raining down on the Libyan desert as I write. The Western invaders could end up killing more Libyans than Gaddafi ever did. More lives will be saved without a continued Western military invasion.
African Studies Programme Director
School of Humanities
The University of Hong Kong
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