Monthly Archives: September 2009

Thank you, Qaddafi, for the Janjaweed!

An African view of the 40th anniversary of the Libyan “revolution”

by Anders Hastrup.

This past month have seen a lot of commentaries and analyses of the 40th anniversary of the Qaddafi regime in Libya, in the wake of the extravagant celebrations in Tripoli on September 1st. Various newspapers, magazines and online journals have focused on the changing role of Libya in world politics seen from the West and the Middle East. Focus has been directed at the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing and the change of Libya’s role in sponsoring terrorism along with speculations about the end of sanctions, oil concessions and the country’s tourist potential.

Middle East commentators, such as Fred Halliday have focused on how the Qaddafi regime was seen from the Arab World and emerged inspired by Nasserism to meddle in the many different conflicts throughout the Arab world. Fred Halliday’s article is an impressive firsthand account of the direct and indirect destructive influences of the Libyan “kleptocracy” throughout the Middle East in the past 40 years and is highly recommended.

In this piece I want to move away from the Arab Middle East and shed light on the destructive influence that Qaddafi has had on the African continent, especially in the Chad-Sudan border region, the region of Darfur, where the Libyan President holds significant responsibility for creating the janjaweed militias, responsible for the mayhem and destruction of Darfur.

An analysis of Qaddafi’s role in Africa is even more pertinent since Libya gained presidency of the African Union this year. Qaddafi has always been ambitious on behalf of his country and its role in the world. After trying out a series of political experiments and half baked alliances with radical groups of almost all dispositions in the Arab World, Qaddafi has looked to some of his African neighbours as a laboratory for his dangerous ideas. Nowhere have the effects of his megalomania been more destructive than in Sudan’s Darfur region.

In order to fully comprehend Libya’s role in Darfur, one must analyse the special triangular relationship between Libya, Chad and Sudan and the way the region of Darfur has been the stage where the regional ambitions of all the three countries have been played out, often in a very violent manner.

Qaddafi and the Chadian Arabs

The Chadian Arabs have for a long time formed the core of the opposition to successive Chadian presidents. Put simply, there is a dichotomy between the North and South in Chad that in some ways resembles the historical North-South divide of Sudan. In Chad, however, the roles are reversed: A poor marginalised Arab North revolt against the Christian South who has monopolized political power in the hands of a narrow elite.

As early as 1966, the Chadian opposition group National Liberation Front for Chad, FROLINAT, was formed in Nyala, capital of South Darfur State in Sudan, starting a long tradition of the use of Darfur as base for disgruntled Chadian Muslims and Arabs. The political mobilisation of the Arab tribes of Chad in the initial FROLINAT and subsequent Chadian rebel movements can to a large degree help explain the origin of the janjaweed militia, whose gang raping, horse-riding murderers hold the responsibility for the displacement of more than 3 million people and the disintegration of an area the size of France into impunity and chaos.

The role played by Libya is crucial in understanding the origin of the janjaweed phenomenon in the region. In 1969, Muammar Qaddafi took power in the country and promoted a series of grand schemes, not only for Libya, but for the entire continent. Initially inspired by the Arab socialism of Egyptian President Gamal Abd al Nasser, Qaddafi became a radical Arab nationalist and sought to export his radical ideas on the African continent. This meant creating a new sense of Arab/Muslim identity among many Bedouins of the Sahel region who received both ideological and military training for the creation of an Arab homeland, the “Arab Belt” across the region. The Christian government of Chad quickly became the focus for Qaddafi’s struggle for “Arab supremacy”. This struggle was one of Qaddafi’s many experiments, where ideologies are utilized as ad hoc creations for colonising and obtaining the raw political control over given areas. He armed the nomadic Arab tribes with weapons and a dangerous ideology of Arab supremacy in this ethnically diverse region. His short-sighted goal was the instability of the Chadian regime. Qaddafi wanted Chad. The long- term effect was a continuing culture of impunity for the region’s Arabs, now armed with modern weapons against the villages of the African populations of Darfur and Eastern Chad.

A look to the margins

In many ways, the origins of the janjaweed can be traced to the meeting of the Arab Chadian opposition, armed by Qaddafi, with the North Darfur Abbala Arabs: The Arab Chadian opposition had arms and moved across the border to their camel herding neighbours, themselves poor landless Arabs of Darfur who were desperately seeking recognition and triggered by a new found ideology where they were the master race.

Roughly speaking, the same dangerous alliance of weapons and an ideology of racial supremacy merged in Sudan’s Darfur region. The area of Darfur and Eastern Chad has historically been the same, the same tribes, Arab and African, live on both sides of the border. Like Qaddafi used the marginalised Arabs of Chad to create a loyal “Arab Belt”, the Khartoum government used the landless Arabs of North Darfur to crack down on the emergent violent opposition. The results of this meeting between these groups can be found in the fierce and ruthless militias unleashing an unprecedented mayhem in Darfur in the first years of the new Millennium.

The most important reason for the janjaweed phenomenon is sheer poverty, marginalisation and the lack of fixed land and land rights. In Darfur, the camel herding Abbala Arabs did not have their own dar, meaning abode or homeland. They shared this lack of spatial recognition with many of the tribes of the Arab tribes of Eastern Chad.

Both Khartoum and Tripoli under the rule of Colonel Qaddafi have skilfully looked to the marginalised Arabs of the triangular region of Libya, Sudan and Chad for the creation of an often short lived loyal belt for the control of the region. The present conflict in Darfur must be seen through these regional dynamics and the inverted roles of the marginalised and the marginalising. The North Darfur and Chadian Arabs, have thus gone from servants to masters through a skilful manipulation by Colonel Qaddafi and Omar al Bashir.

The 40th anniversary of Qaddafi’s “revolution” is the anniversary of one of the most controversial, extravagant and eccentric regimes of the past generations. The flamboyant character of Muammar Qaddafi has taken Arab political kitsch to a new level. The Green Book and subsequent ideological mutations of the Tripoli regime have been the laughing stock of many analysts who have mocked the weirdness and melodramatic character of the increasingly clown-like figure of the Libyan President.

However, Muammar Qaddafi might laugh last. Not many people have made any point of commenting on his current Presidency of the African Union and the fact that he, through this, remains incredibly influential on the African continent and not just a lone, howling mad wolf. He has, undoubtedly helped many Africans who have worked in the booming oil businesses of Libya, and many of my Darfurian friends still travel to Libya there and sustain large families in Sudan by their Libyan salaries. However, the indirect economic assistance to numerous Darfurians must be viewed against Colonel Qaddafi’s  most dubious legacy in the region: he played a major role in sowing the seeds for the murderous janjaweed militias in Darfur. His Presidency of the African Union, its peacekeeping forces form the core of the international deployment in Darfur, is a scandal.

The unsurprisingly sad irony of nuclear politics

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

While the war against Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program continues – with its usual suspects at the forefront and behind the screens (1, 2, 3, 4 … and counting) and with the usual stream of unreliable ‘sources’ being quoted liberally by global media to prove evil Iranian schemes and distorting the issue beyond recognition – a related and very relevant news item has received surprisingly little attention.

Last week, Muslim-majority states in the UN nuclear assembly pushed for a resolution – albeit, a nonbinding resolution – urging Israel to allow UN inspection to all its nuclear sites and to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. What is amazing is that this is the first time in 18 years the nuclear conference has been able to pass a resolution criticizing Israel for its illegal, ‘clandestine’ program.

It has been a public secret for years that Israel has the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, yet Israel has never confirmed or denied this. Furthermore, Israel is the only nation in the Middle East not to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is, of course, part of the absurdity in the global Israeli propaganda war and constant military threats against Iran that those Western and Israeli politicians, ‘experts’ and lobby groups so worried about an Iranian bomb rarely if ever discuss the issue of Israel’s weapons – as if it was completely unrelated to the nuclear politics of the region. It comes across as particularly hypocritical and ludicrous when the chief delegate of the US – a nuclear-armed nation that wages wars in the Middle East while actively obstructing any attempt to hold Israel accountable in the nuclear conference – rejected what she called ‘redundant’ and ‘an attempt to use this resolution to criticize a single country’.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Iranians have sought to capitalize on the resolution and the setback it represents for Israel’s allies who have prevented the resolution for nearly two decades. The Iranian ambassador Ali-Asghar Soltanieh has hailed the resolution as a ‘glorious moment’, and ‘a triumph for the oppressed people of Palestine’. He added that Tehran would happily pay the expenses connected with a probe into the clandestine Israeli nuclear program ‘for the sake of global peace and welfare’.

The Israeli response shouldn’t come as a surprise either. The Israeli delegate stated that the resolution was ‘openly hostile to the state of Israel’ and that the Iranians and Syrians are trying to create a smokescreen for their own pursuit of nuclear weapons.

It is the sad irony of nuclear politics that Israel is just as big a threat to the fragile NPT regime as Iran is: outraged when the US hints it might be a good idea for it to join the NPT, and then deriding the NPT for not being a ‘miracle cure’.

It is the sad irony of global politics that a state such as the current Iranian regime is put in a position to capitalize on the resolution and thus present itself in the Muslim world as a righteous power while doing its own dirty work at home.

However, none of this should come as a surprise. Should it?

Hariri puts forward a cabinet proposal

by Sune Haugbolle.

So, after months of wrangling, Hariri yesterday finally proposed a cabinet line-up to President Michel Suleiman, and to the whole of Lebanon’s fractured political landscape. As expected, the proposal follows the earlier idea of a unity government with a 15-10-5 division of ministries, 15 to March 14, 10 to March 8 and 5 to Suleiman’s lot.

The main problem with the proposal is that it was essentially put forward without a prior agreement – since an agreement couldn’t be found. Hariri failed to meet Aoun’s demand that he get the Interior Ministry, and that his son-in-law, Gibran Bassil, keep the Telecommunications Ministry. Hizbollah, for their part, have refrained from putting pressure on Aoun, and without that happening the old rhino is unlikely to budge. This is to say nothing of Hizbollah’s own problems with the proposal, which falls short of meeting their own demands of guarantees.

So, nothing has chnaged really. Perhaps the only thing that should make us wonder is the timing of the announcement. Of course Hariri couldn’t stall forever; something had to happen, even if he likely knew that March 8 would reject his cabinet proposal out of hand. On the other side, it is possible that there were regional strategic reasonings behind Hariri’s actions. The proposal comes while Syria, March 8′s strongest external ally, is caught up in a spat with Iraq over last month’s Baghdad bombings, for which Iraq holds Syria partially responsible.  (For Danish speakers, here is a link to me talking about the Syria-Iraq controversy on Danish TV DR2 last Tuesday).  

Bashar al-Asad has refused to even acknowledge the nature of the problem, and despite Turkish and American attempts to set up a joint committee to investigate the border, Iraq is taking action on its own. Since last week, Iraqi security forces have been gathering on the Syrian border in an attempt to curb infiltration of Ba’athist militants, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is pushing for a UN tribunal to investigate foreign complicity in the bombings.

If Hariri has indeed reacted to these events, which occupy local media quite a bit more than international ones, he may have calculated that Syria’s focus on its dispute with Iraq, in addition to increasing domestic and international pressures on Iran, will weaken Hizbollah to the point where it is compelled to accept his cabinet. If this is indeed the case, Hariri has made a mistake: Hizbollah’s strength or weakness is not so much relative to regional events, as we have seen before, but primarily an effect of their own perception (which is ever strong and determined). Therefore the most likely outcome of the cabinet proposal is yet more threading water for Lebanon.