One of my goals with this channel is to constantly add to the breadth of countries covered. I think today’s video does a great job of doing exactly that. You’ve certainly heard me complain about Libya before, but I’ve always avoided this aspect of the tragedy, because it’s just so damn complicated. There are a lot of moving parts to the fall of the Sahel. Two developments convinced me to take the time necessary to make this video happen. One negative, and one very positive. The death of Chad’s president at the hands of a militia trained in Libya, and the almost miraculous ( and very tenuous ) emergence of a unified government in Libya. Diving into Chad, and comparing it with what I know about Sudan gave me some more perspective on the region. Obviously, I am barely scratching the surface here, but I feel like this is a crucial piece of information for understanding this vital region of Africa. I also enjoy the way the information was conveyed. I hope you do too!
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Today we get to do something rather strange for this channel… we are going to talk about some good news. Amazing news in fact. I have held off talking about what’s happening in Libya, at first because I honestly didn’t buy it. I thought the peace process was guaranteed to fail.
Which kind of makes sense if you consider the past ten years of Libyan history. Ever since the US destroyed Libya’s government back in 2011, the country has been in chaos. This new compromise is at least the fourth attempt at a negotiated government. For the past decade Libya’s problem has been that it would elect or establish a new government through negotiation, and the old government would refuse to give up power. But to my surprise, and I think the surprise of a lot of others, this new government of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh has been approved by both of Libya’s rival governments. This is extraordinarily good news. It may seem weird to get this excited about the end of a civil war in a country of just 6 million people, but this is a tremendously important development, to explain why I think so, it might be worthwhile to go through some of the reasons why this war has been so destructive.
First off, NATO’s abuse of a UN resolution, which had expressly forbidden Libyan regime change, alienated Russia and China so much that the UN security Council has been pretty useless for solving conflict for a full ten years now .
Second, though Syria often gets more blame, the destruction of Libya was key to the refugee flows that destabilized the EU in 2014, and led to the loss of one of its richest countries with Brexit in 2016.
Third, the war in Libya has acted as a firewall against Arab Democracy. Libya’s neighbor Tunisia has heroically maintained a fully functioning constitutional representative democracy for a decade now. But the Tunisian people haven’t gotten any economic benefit from it because the Libyan petro state they used to rely on has been in chaos for that whole decade of democracy.
And fourth, Libyan chaos has artificially inflated oil prices world wide, drawing out the agony of Petro states everywhere, and delaying our transition away from fossil fuels.
I have separate videos talking about all of these issues, you can find a playlist on the channel’s main page. If we are really about to see peace in Libya, all of these issues could be about improve dramatically. Before I talk about that though, there’s one more effect of the war in Libya I have shamefully neglected so far, and that is the horrific consequences in the countries of the Sahel.
Sahel means coast in many languages, and according to most sources, in this case it refers to the coast, not of a body of water, but of the Sahara desert. All of these countries have been absolutely devastated by the war in Libya.
It’s important to remember how rich Libya is. It’s bountiful resources, combined with its tiny population made it a sort of North African UAE. With vastly more land than the Emirates of course. Before 2011, Libya actually had a higher GDP per capita than poorer European Union countries like Romania and Bulgaria.
Muammar Gaddafi, the guy who ran Libya between 1969 and 2011 was a crazy person, but in his own very weird way he was committed to African freedom and Unity. Even if say 80% of his African diplomacy was about self promotion, he had so much money to play with that the other 20% had a tremendous positive impact. As one example, he was one of the main funders of the founding of the African Union.
Because Libya had so much spare money, it became central to the economies of not just Tunisia, but all of the countries of the Sahel as well. Money sent home from migrant work in Libya was a big part the economy of all Sahel countries. Less positively, Gaddafi also relied on soldiers from the Sahel to shore up his own power in Libya, creating groups of well paid and well armed actors. Gaddafi’s influence on politics in the Sahel, especially during the Cold war, could be manipulative and violent, but so was French and US influence. Libya provided an alternative. Love him or hate him Gaddafi was central to North African life for decades. Unfortunately NATO really hated him, and despite the fact that he had tried to make peace for years, we killed him in 2011.
BTW, I know I have mentioned this before, but the Obama administration’s excuse that we were saving the city of Benghazi seems especially hollow,because Benghazi ended up being subjected to a three year siege and debilitating bombing campaign between 2014 and 2017 anyway. The fact that it was former CIA operative Khalifa Haftar doing the crushing rather than Gaddafi doesn’t seem like much of an improvement.
The effects Of Gaddafi’s killing on the Sahel were both immediate, and long lasting. The financial network that had come to underpin the prosperity of much of North Africa disappeared. Gaddafi’s African soldiers dispersed back to their countries and took their weapons with them. Mali was the first to fall. Gaddafi was killed in October 2011, and by January 2012 Mali’s north was over-run by insurgents with Libyan weapons. The top half of what had been one of Africa’s more stable countries ended up being run by Jihadists for a year, as the country as a whole experienced a military coup. A French military intervention pushed the insurgents out of the cities, but French troops are still involved a decade later, and Mali suffered yet another coup last year. Mali may be the most politically damaged of the Sahel countries, but all of them have experienced the effects of Gaddafi’s fall. Insurgency has grown everywhere. We have seen multiple coups. And all these conflicts gave the French and US militaries the excuse to dig in even farther into the region, with effects that have been meaningless and wasteful when they haven’t been downright horrific. Just last month we saw insurgents armed and trained in Libya kill the president of Chad in open battle. Idris Deby was a staunch French ally and 30 year strong man. His death, and his life really, illustrate the never ending waste of US and European intervention in the Sahel. We caused the nightmare in NorthWest Africa by destroying Libya, and our continued presence in the region has only made things worse. But even all the political damage NATO caused pales in comparison to the economic damage we caused by killing Gaddafi.
We are again accustomed to treating the Sahel as an economic no hope zone. But that wasn’t always the case. In the first decade of this century, almost every country in the Sahel experienced extraordinary economic success. GDP is an imperfect measure, but in most Sahel countries it tripled. It was a tremendously hopeful decade for North Africa. Then NATO scooped out North Africa’s economic heart and set it on fire. After Libya’s destruction, every economy in the Sahel came to a screeching halt. The 2010s were a lost decade for North Africa economically speaking. Now it’s important to mention that it wasn’t just the Libya invasion that did this. The region is very reliant on oil and gas prices, which have been in the toilet for 7 years now. Also, China’s growth miracle and voracious demand for resources, while still impressive, kind of petered out over the course of the 2010s as well.
But world oil prices crashed in 2014, and the big China slow down hit in 2015. What’s the year the growth miracle ended for what looks to me like every country in the Sahel? 2011. The year my country and its vassals destroyed Libya. If refugee flows are something we are supposed to be concerned about, well, knocking most of North West Africa into economic stagnation is not the way to make things better.
So yeah, it is fantastic that things appear to be improving in Libya. Is everything settled? Oh no. There is so much that could go wrong. New Prime Minister Dbeibeh seems like a fairly corrupt dude. His wealth and networking skills may have been necessary to get the process to this point, but now that whatever promises he made to gain power have to be honored we could be in for trouble.
A ton depends on the election, now scheduled for December 24th. It needs to happen, and serious planning for it needed to start yesterday. Keep in mind that even if they have acknowledged the new government, the country is still physically controlled by a patchwork of militias. That militia patchwork is also supported by a bewildering mix of foreign mercenaries, and a sprinkling of foreign military advisors as well. The sequencing of the withdrawal of these foreign forces is another complex problem. And let’s not forget, failed strongman Khalifa Haftar is still floating around, just waiting for yet another opportunity to fuck everything up.
There is a lot that can go wrong. The world should be paying a lot more attention, and should be doing absolutely everything in its power to keep this process on track and help Libya knit itself back together. I don’t want to make another argument from shame here though. To close, let’s talk selfishly, about what the world can get out of this.
In 2011, the Arab Spring launched in Tunisia. For 10 years Libya’s war has acted as a firebreak against Tunisia’s Arab Democracy. Libya’s population is rich and educated enough, that it’s easy to imagine Tunisia’s experiment spreading there if stability can be preserved. Egypt is not going to be changing any time soon. It’s poverty, size, and geopolitical significance all help dictators thrive there. But Algeria and Morocco are both relatively rich, fairly well organized places that are very ready for a new system. With a stable Libya, Tunisia could lead a North African block into Democracy. This stability wouldn’t just shut down refugee flows, it would provide a new platform for cooperation and economic development. Which would in turn lead to stability and prosperity for the whole of the Sahel.
This isn’t a fantasy world I am talking about here. We know it’s possible for the GDP’s of Sahel countries to triple in a decade, because we saw it between 2000 and 2011. The Sahel can be a resource for the world’s diplomats and businesspeople again, instead of just a profit center for the French and US militaries. This isn’t just possible, it’s the most likely result if Libya manages to stabilize. I haven’t been this optimistic about something in the Arab world for quite some time.
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