Libyan Policy in the Horn of Africa Center for Naval Analyses Workshop Arlington, Virginia 25 October 2010 Remarks
by David H. Shinn Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs George Washington University My remarks focus on Libyan policy towards Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia/Somaliland; Sudan has already been discussed. In most respects, Libyan policy towards the Horn is similar to its policy in the rest of Africa. Libya maintains an embassy 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 Horn has 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 1998 with the stated goal of strengthening peace, security and stability and to achieve global economic and social development in the region. There are currently 29 African members of 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 an important African leader, preferably Africa’s most important leader. More than ten years ago 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 a headquarters 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 $8 trillion in reparations from the former colonizers of Africa. Over the years he has taken equally controversial and even bizarre positions on African regional and bilateral issues. For a country with so much oil and its relative geographic nearness to the countries 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 in Ethiopia and Eritrea, but little or nothing in Djibouti and Somalia. Of the four Horn countries, the Libyan Arab African Investment Company only has small investments in Ethiopia. Except for Egypt and the countries of the Maghreb, Libya has very little trade with 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 in 2008 after years of virtually no trade. Let me turn to each of the four countries in the Horn. Ethiopia
2 Following the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1974 and the arrival of the left-wing Mengistu Haile Mariam government, Qaddafi started pouring money into Ethiopia. By mid-1977, he had reportedly committed $100 million in military aid. Libya signed a Tripartite Friendship and Cooperation Treaty in 1981 with South Yemen and Ethiopia, largely as a response to “American imperialism.” Both Libya and Ethiopia supported the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the 1980s to the consternation of the government in Khartoum. However, Qaddafi’s decision in 1984 to unite his country with conservative Morocco and drop support for the Polisario’s efforts to obtain control of the Western Sahara embarrassed Mengistu, at the time head of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and a strong supporter of the Polisario. Libya was unable to use its friendship 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’s anti-Marxist views. This was not a relationship with a sound foundation. In 1991, Meles Zenawi removed Mengistu from power. Ethiopia has pursued a correct but careful relationship with Libya ever since. There was nothing especially notable about Ethiopia’s ties with Libya until the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict broke out 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 mediation of the conflict should be within the context of the OAU framework agreement. Ethiopia welcomed Libya’s efforts to support that process but showed no interest in a separate Libyan mediation. Libya and Ethiopia signed in 1999 an umbrella agreement on economic, scientific, cultural and technical cooperation in Sirte, Libya. In March 2000, the Libyan foreign minister, during a visit to Addis Ababa, denied that Libya was supporting the Eritrean government in its border dispute with Ethiopia. He described Libya’s relations with Ethiopia as “special and close.” A common tactic by Libya over the years has been the donation of small amounts of assistance in times of need. Libya did this in 2001 when 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. The two sides signed agreements on the establishment of the Ethiopia-Libya Joint Commission, investment, trade, youth, sports and culture. Meles visited Libya in 2006 when the focus was on Libyan investment in Ethiopia and the peace process in Somalia. Ethiopia’s foreign minister visited Libya in 2007 when he 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 States of Africa proposal as a way to move the headquarters of the AU, which is now in Addis Ababa, to Libya. In addition, Libya competed with Ethiopia for the headquarters of the new AU parliament, which is also being established in Addis Ababa. Libyan investment finally became meaningful in 2008 when the Libya Oil Holding 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.
3 It is not surprising that the relationship between Qaddafi and Meles has evolved carefully. The two leaders are very different. Qaddafi is mercurial, unpredictable and frequently impractical. Meles is predictable, strategic and usually practical. Eritrea Libya was a strong supporter of Eritrean nationalism, including Isaias Afewerki’s Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, from 1969 through 1975. Following the 1974 coup in Ethiopia 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 slowly to improve. In 1995, Qaddafi tried without success to mediate a dispute between Sudan and 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 June 1998, Qaddafi began efforts to mediate the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict that broke out a month earlier. He proposed a ceasefire, a Sahelian-Saharan peacekeeping force and border arbitration. When Eritrea accepted the proposal and Ethiopia did not, Qaddafi helped 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 five visits 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 the relationship came to light as Eritrean refugees and illegal immigrants, especially those trying 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 harsh conditions in Libyan detention centers. In 2004, Libya placed 75 Eritreans on a Libyan air force plane. When told they were being returned to Eritrea, four of the Eritreans hijacked the plane and forced it to land in Sudan. Libya continued to return some of the refugees/illegal immigrants to Eritrea as recently as this year. In 2006, Eritrea announced the translation of Qaddafi’s Green Book into Tigrinya under the auspices of the Libyan International Study and Research Centre. Isaias returned to Libya in November 2006 to participate in a heads of state meeting chaired by Qaddafi to find a solution for the conflict in Darfur. A Libyan delegation visited Asmara a few days later and signed a memorandum of understanding on investment cooperation. In 2007, a senior Eritrean delegation attended a meeting of representatives of national assemblies 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, Sudan and Libya to discuss problems between Chad and Sudan. The same countries sent delegations to Asmara at the end of the year to continue their deliberations. In 2008, Eritrea initiated a border conflict with Djibouti; Isaias appealed to Qaddafi to resolve the dispute. He was not successful. In 2009, Qaddafi visited Eritrea and 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 CENSAD. Libyan investment in Eritrea was high on the agenda. Tamoil Africa, which is owned by Libya, now has service stations in Eritrea.
4 Libya agreed this year to release 250 Eritrean refugees/illegal immigrants from detention in exchange for the right of residency and ability to work in Libya. In October 2010, Isaias returned to Libya to attend the African-Arab Summit at Sirte and held bilateral meetings with Gaddafi. Since the 1998 border conflict with Ethiopia, there has been a steady improvement in Eritrea’s relations with Libya. Much of this is due to Isaias’ desire to use his relationship with Qaddafi as leverage for countering Ethiopia. Djibouti Libya’s relations with Djibouti have been limited in nature, although Djibouti’s president in 1997 was the first Arab League leader to land in Tripoli in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions against Libya. Libya played a helpful role in 2000 in ending the break in diplomatic relations between Djibouti and Eritrea because Eritrea believed Djibouti was supporting Ethiopia in the aftermath of the 1998 Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict. In the same year, the presidents of Libya and Djibouti met with Egyptian President Mubarak in Cairo to discuss the Djiboutian president’s peace proposal for Somalia. In 2002, the Libyan coordinator of the CEN-SAD peacekeeping forces visited Djibouti to discuss bilateral relations between Libya and Djibouti. Later in the year, Libya donated $825,000 worth of rice to Djibouti. In 2003, Qaddafi visited Djibouti where they signed several agreements and emphasized the need for regional cooperation to fight terrorism in the region. The Djiboutian president returned the visit the same year to attend the 34th commemoration of the Libyan revolution. Bilateral talks focused on Libyan investment in Djibouti, the fight against terrorism and efforts to create a government in Somalia. The Libyan foreign minister then came to Djibouti a week later when he visited a maternity hospital built with Libyan assistance. In 2007, Libya sent 20 tons of medicine and blankets to Djibouti for Somali refugees living there. Eritrea’s incursion along the Djiboutian border in 2008 presented a dilemma for Libyan policy as it tried to have good relations with both Eritrea and Djibouti. The situation came to a head early in 2010 when Libya was the only Arab country represented on the UN Security Council (UNSC). Djibouti and 13 of the 15 members of the UNSC strongly supported sanctions against Eritrea for its support of extremist groups in Somalia and its aggressive actions along Djibouti’s border. China abstained while Libya was the only UNSC member to vote against the resolution, infuriating Djibouti. The Djiboutian foreign minister declared that his country was freezing membership in CEN-SAD and would not attend the March 2010 Arab summit in Tripoli. He said that Djibouti had lodged a formal protest with Libya, adding that the vote was “blatant proof of its backing for Eritrea’s aggression against Djibouti.” The Libyan foreign minister arrived in Djibouti two weeks later in an effort to undo the damage to the relationship. Although it is not clear what Libya promised Djibouti, the Djiboutian foreign minister subsequently reversed course, announced that Djibouti would attend the Arab summit in Tripoli in March and that Djibouti has “no problem with Libya’s relations with Eritrea.” In July 2010, a senior Libyan official visited Djibouti and invited the government to take part in three upcoming summits in Sirte: the Arab League summit, the Arab League-Africa summit and the Africa-Europe summit. They also discussed the upcoming
5 summit of CEN-SAD in Kampala. The Djiboutian president subsequently participated in the two summits that took place in Sirte in October 2010. Somalia/Somaliland Ethiopia and Somalia are historical enemies. When Qaddafi developed an alliance with Ethiopia’s Mengistu in the mid-1970s, this angered Somalia’s President Siad Barre. Somalia broke relations with Libya in 1981 and did not restore them until 1985. Libya has maintained an official diplomatic presence in Mogadishu since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991 and collapse of Somalia, one of only two countries, the other being Sudan, to keep diplomatic staff without interruption in such a dangerous environment. During the mid-1990s, Somali faction leaders collected thousands of frequent flyer miles as they visited Tripoli in an effort to convince Gaddafi to support them. Mohammed Farah Aideed reportedly negotiated with Libya for military aid. In 1998, the Libyan charge d’affaires in Mogadishu announced an $800,000 grant to the local administration in the greater Mogadishu area and another $250,000 for the political reconciliation conference in Baidoa. In 2001, Libya trained a contingent of Somalis to protect senior Transitional National Government (TNG) officials. A Libyan team also visited Mogadishu to assess the setting up of a radio and television station for the TNG. The following year, TNG President Abdiqasim Salad Hasan met with Qaddafi in Tripoli. The two leaders signed a cooperation agreement. Libya agreed to send a team of experts to work on Mogadishu’s electricity supply and to buy more livestock from Somalia. Libya said it would take part in Somalia’s reconciliation process and reportedly began supplying arms to the TNG together with Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea. In 2006, when the new Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) led by Abdullahi Yusuf tried to reconcile with the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), Sudan agreed to host in Khartoum the Arab League countries to advance the Somali peace process. The only countries to send their foreign ministers were Sudan, Djibouti and Libya. Due to lack of interest, the Arab League meeting in Khartoum achieved nothing. UIC leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed considered Libya an important player; he visited Libya the same year. The UN Monitoring Group reported that Libya provided aid to the UIC. At the same time, Abdullahi Yusuf continued his communication with Qaddafi and visited Tripoli in 2007. In 2007, Somali gunmen briefly captured and then released the acting Libyan ambassador and his chief of staff as they were visiting Mogadishu’s main market. The fact they were released so quickly attests to the strong contacts Libya had developed in Mogadishu or the payment of a quick ransom. In 2008, CEN-SAD announced that it would provide funds to build roads and bridges in Somalia, although there is no indication that construction has begun. Illegal immigrants from Somalia have encountered the same problem in Libya as their Eritrean counterparts. Libya jailed some 280 Somali immigrants, but agreed to release 65 of them in 2008 after their relatives paid a hefty fine. Most of them were trying to make their way to Italy. Somalis continue to flee to Libya in hopes of reaching Europe. In 2009,
6 Libya sent invitations to the leaders of insurgent groups in Somalia to come to Tripoli where Libya agreed to try to mediate their differences. This initiative did not succeed. Qaddafi has an interesting approach to Somali piracy. He stated in May 2009 that the activities of pirates along the Somali coast are legal and are meant to defend Somalia’s natural resources. He added that Somali pirates cannot be referred to as pirates as they have a responsibility to defend the marine resources of African countries. Somali pirates expressed their appreciation in February 2010 by capturing in the Gulf of Aden the MV Rim, a Libyan-owned cargo ship with 17 Romanian and Libyan crew who were taken hostage. The vessel was flying the North Korean flag; perhaps the pirates can be excused for their lack of gratitude. Former Somaliland President Mohammed Ibrahim Egal made a major effort to cultivate Libya in the hopes of attracting diplomatic recognition for his unrecognized country. Egal visited Libya in 1998; later that year the Libyan charge d’affaires in Mogadishu announced that Libya sees Egal as a “factional leader” and underscored the importance of the unity of Somalia. In 1999, Egal announced that Libya had agreed to rehabilitate a former cement factory in Berbera, initiate a large maize farming project and build a spaghetti factory. It is not clear what happened to these projects. Egal returned to Libya in 2000 when Qaddafi also invited faction leaders from Somalia, including the then leader of Puntland, Abdullahi Yusuf. The meeting failed to resolve differences between Somaliland and Puntland. By 2007, Gaddafi had apparently tired of trying to reconcile the Somali factions and the leaders of Somaliland and Puntland. He declared that “people want us to wait until Somalia unites and ends its problems. Somalia has split into three or four countries. Uniting Somalia is a challenge and it might not unite.” The answer, he said, is to create his United States of Africa, which will circumvent all of these lesser issues. Conclusion Libyan interaction with the Horn on the economic level is increasing, but remains surprisingly modest. Most of its economic activity is in Ethiopia with its 81 million people. The 5 million people in Eritrea and less than one million in Djibouti do not offer very attractive economic opportunities. The security situation in Somalia is not conducive to economic engagement by any country. Libya is heavily involved in political affairs in the Horn and tries to maintain strong ties with all countries. However, Libya can not avoid becoming entangled in the interstate and even internal conflicts that constantly impact the region. Libya at one time supported the SPLM against Khartoum and Ethiopia against Somalia, angering Sudan and Somalia in the process. Ethiopia charged more recently that Libya sided with Eritrea following the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war. Djibouti became upset with Libya when it supported Eritrea following the 2008 Eritrea-Djibouti dispute. Although Libya now supports the TFG in Somalia, it is believed to have supported Somali dissident groups in the 1990s. Eritrea is the only country that Libya has not irritated since Eritrea became independent.