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Libyan Policy in the Horn of Africa

Libyan Policy in the Horn of Africa

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Published by David Shinn
Ambassador David H. Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, presentation on "Libyan Policy in the Horn of Africa" at Center for Naval Analysis Workshop, Arlington, Virginia, on 25 October 2010.
Ambassador David H. Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, presentation on "Libyan Policy in the Horn of Africa" at Center for Naval Analysis Workshop, Arlington, Virginia, on 25 October 2010.

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Published by: David Shinn on Oct 27, 2010
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Libyan Policy in the Horn of Africa
Center for Naval Analyses WorkshopArlington, Virginia25 October 2010Remarks by David H. ShinnAdjunct Professor, Elliott School of International AffairsGeorge Washington UniversityMy remarks focus on Libyan policy towards Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti andSomalia/Somaliland; Sudan has already been discussed. In most respects, Libyan policytowards the Horn is similar to its policy in the rest of Africa. Libya maintains anembassy in all four countries and is very active politically, at least on a sporadic basis.Libya tries to mediate conflicts, especially interstate conflict, throughout Africa; the Hornhas been no exception to this long-standing Libyan policy. It seems to be part of President Qaddafi’s DNA to inject Libya into African disputes.Qaddafi created the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) in 1998with the stated goal of strengthening peace, security and stability and to achieve globaleconomic and social development in the region. There are currently 29 African membersof CEN-SAD. Eritrea joined CEN-SAD in 1999 and Djibouti in 2000. Somalia also became an early member. So far, Ethiopia has not joined.Qaddafi’s vision for Africa has an important impact on Libya’s individual bilateral relationships in both positive and negative ways. He craves to be seen as animportant African leader, preferably Africa’s most important leader. More than ten yearsago he proposed the creation of a United States of Africa. CEN-SAD forms the basis of this concept. Qaddafi sees himself as the head of the United States of Africa with aheadquarters in Libya. The concept has not been well received in much of Africa.During his recent one year presidency of the African Union, he demanded almost $8trillion in reparations from the former colonizers of Africa. Over the years he has takenequally controversial and even bizarre positions on African regional and bilateral issues.For a country with so much oil and its relative geographic nearness to thecountries of the Horn, its economic ties with them have been surprisingly limited.Libya’s $5 billion Libya Africa Investment Portfolio has a few modest projects inEthiopia and Eritrea, but little or nothing in Djibouti and Somalia. Of the four Horncountries, the Libyan Arab African Investment Company only has small investments inEthiopia. Except for Egypt and the countries of the Maghreb, Libya has very little tradewith the rest of Africa. Its total trade does not even register in the case of Eritrea,Djibouti and Somalia while Libyan exports to Ethiopia did reach a modest $19 million in2008 after years of virtually no trade.Let me turn to each of the four countries in the Horn.
Following the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1974 and the arrival of the left-wingMengistu Haile Mariam government, Qaddafi started pouring money into Ethiopia. Bymid-1977, he had reportedly committed $100 million in military aid. Libya signed aTripartite Friendship and Cooperation Treaty in 1981 with South Yemen and Ethiopia,largely as a response to “American imperialism.” Both Libya and Ethiopia supported theSudan People’s Liberation Movement in the 1980s to the consternation of thegovernment in Khartoum. However, Qaddafi’s decision in 1984 to unite his country withconservative Morocco and drop support for the Polisario’s efforts to obtain control of theWestern Sahara embarrassed Mengistu, at the time head of the Organization of AfricanUnity (OAU) and a strong supporter of the Polisario. Libya was unable to use itsfriendship with Ethiopia during the Mengistu period to extend its influence in the Horn of Africa. As a result, an anticipated $200 million Libyan investment in an Ethiopian sugar refinery collapsed. Mengistu’s Marxism-Leninism contrasted sharply with Qaddafi’santi-Marxist views. This was not a relationship with a sound foundation.In 1991, Meles Zenawi removed Mengistu from power. Ethiopia has pursued acorrect but careful relationship with Libya ever since. There was nothing especiallynotable about Ethiopia’s ties with Libya until the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict brokeout in May 1998. Qaddafi made numerous, unsuccessful efforts to mediate the conflict.Meles visited Libya twice in 1999 in this connection but made it clear that any mediationof the conflict should be within the context of the OAU framework agreement. Ethiopiawelcomed Libya’s efforts to support that process but showed no interest in a separateLibyan mediation.Libya and Ethiopia signed in 1999 an umbrella agreement on economic,scientific, cultural and technical cooperation in Sirte, Libya. In March 2000, the Libyanforeign minister, during a visit to Addis Ababa, denied that Libya was supporting theEritrean government in its border dispute with Ethiopia. He described Libya’s relationswith Ethiopia as “special and close.” A common tactic by Libya over the years has beenthe donation of small amounts of assistance in times of need. Libya did this in 2001when it donated grain valued at $1.2 million to help meet food shortages in Ethiopia.Qaddafi visited Ethiopia in 2003 in connection with the African Union (AU) summit.The first Ethiopia-Libya Joint Ministerial Commission met in Addis Ababa in 2004. Thetwo sides signed agreements on the establishment of the Ethiopia-Libya JointCommission, investment, trade, youth, sports and culture.Meles visited Libya in 2006 when the focus was on Libyan investment in Ethiopiaand the peace process in Somalia. Ethiopia’s foreign minister visited Libya in 2007 whenhe explained Ethiopia’s intervention into Somalia. A senior Ethiopian official made clear in 2007 that Ethiopia does not consider Qaddafi’s concept of a United States of Africa a priority issue. There are also concerns in Ethiopia that Qaddafi is using the United Statesof Africa proposal as a way to move the headquarters of the AU, which is now in AddisAbaba, to Libya. In addition, Libya competed with Ethiopia for the headquarters of thenew AU parliament, which is also being established in Addis Ababa.Libyan investment finally became meaningful in 2008 when the Libya OilHolding Ltd. bought 100 percent of Shell Ethiopia’s 201 retail outlets across the country.Libya has smaller investments in a mineral water factory and the drilling of water wells.2
It is not surprising that the relationship between Qaddafi and Meles has evolvedcarefully. The two leaders are very different. Qaddafi is mercurial, unpredictable andfrequently impractical. Meles is predictable, strategic and usually practical.
Libya was a strong supporter of Eritrean nationalism, including Isaias Afewerki’sEritrean People’s Liberation Front, from 1969 through 1975. Following the 1974 coup inEthiopia and takeover of the government by Mengistu, Qaddafi ended his support for Eritrean liberation groups and switched his support to Ethiopia in 1976 or 1977.Following Eritrean independence in 1993, Libyan-Eritrean relations began slowlyto improve. In 1995, Qaddafi tried without success to mediate a dispute between Sudanand Eritrea, which centered on support for opposition groups in each other’s country.Early in 1998, Isaias visited Tripoli and established formal diplomatic relations. In June1998, Qaddafi began efforts to mediate the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict that broke outa month earlier. He proposed a ceasefire, a Sahelian-Saharan peacekeeping force and border arbitration. When Eritrea accepted the proposal and Ethiopia did not, Qaddafihelped finance Eritrea’s military campaign against Ethiopia. Isaias began a major campaign to cultivate the Libyan leader and in just the second half of 1998 made fivevisits to Libya. Isaias and Qaddafi have been good personal friends ever since.In 2000, Libya successfully helped to end a dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti.Isaias visited Tripoli in 2002 for discussions on trade agreements. A hiccup in therelationship came to light as Eritrean refugees and illegal immigrants, especially thosetrying to escape military service, made their way to Libya en route to Europe. This became an embarrassment for Eritrea and a problem for Libya. They faced harshconditions in Libyan detention centers. In 2004, Libya placed 75 Eritreans on a Libyanair force plane. When told they were being returned to Eritrea, four of the Eritreanshijacked the plane and forced it to land in Sudan. Libya continued to return some of therefugees/illegal immigrants to Eritrea as recently as this year.In 2006, Eritrea announced the translation of Qaddafi’s
Green Book 
into Tigrinyaunder the auspices of the Libyan International Study and Research Centre. Isaiasreturned to Libya in November 2006 to participate in a heads of state meeting chaired byQaddafi to find a solution for the conflict in Darfur. A Libyan delegation visited Asmaraa few days later and signed a memorandum of understanding on investment cooperation.In 2007, a senior Eritrean delegation attended a meeting of representatives of nationalassemblies in Tripoli. This was curious as Eritrea does not have a national assembly.Isaias and senior military leaders then joined counterparts in Tripoli from Chad, Sudanand Libya to discuss problems between Chad and Sudan. The same countries sentdelegations to Asmara at the end of the year to continue their deliberations.In 2008, Eritrea initiated a border conflict with Djibouti; Isaias appealed toQaddafi to resolve the dispute. He was not successful. In 2009, Qaddafi visited Eritreaand described relations as strong and continuing to gain momentum. In March 2010,Isaias visited Tripoli where he held discussions with Qaddafi and the chairman of CEN-SAD. Libyan investment in Eritrea was high on the agenda. Tamoil Africa, which isowned by Libya, now has service stations in Eritrea.3

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