The Maghreb Bleeds the Sahel

Libya’s revolution, once considered an organic domino in the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has had fatal consequences for many sub-Saharan African nation-states. Weapons, chaos, and militancy have continued to seep southward from the open wound Libya has become.
©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Albuquerque- Last month I did an interview with the Associated Press about the long, complex history of Libya’s Khalifa Haftar (though the AP uses the transliteration Hifter) for article that was picked up by The New York Times, Washington Post, and even my university town newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune. Haftar, still very much a US citizen owing to his CIA-sponsored years in Virginia, is being sued under the Torture Victims Protection Act that was passed in 1991. Given that the larger-than-live Libyan commander, or “warlord” if you’re Turkish or Qatari state media, is quite busy overseeing a troubled east to west military offensive, he or his sons appear in a Virginia courtroom appears quite unlikely even if their real estate possessions are threatened by the American legal system. The future of Libya is at stake, something Haftar has waited for for half a century.

No, this isn’t a next level COVID-19 getup, it was Libya in 2011. I had a feeling then this wasn’t going to turn out well.
©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Libya has been in the throes of a calamitous internal conflict armed and fueled by external state actors. With Qatar and Turkey backing the weak, UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Serraj in Tripolotania and the UAE and Egypt propping up Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in Cyrenaica. This rather stalemated conflict has effectively bifurcated the country from the Gulf of Sirte south and while creating deadly militia competition in the oil-rich, desolate Fezzan region. Adding to confusion is the somewhat bizarre stance of France that, as a member of the UN Security Council’s P5, is obligated to support the GNA while clandestinely supporting Haftar and his LNA. The outside forces at work in Libya can appear almost infinite with France and Italy, two principal EU states, neighbours, and trading partners, are competing inside Libya via their respective oil giants, Total and ENI. There are Persian Gulf, eastern Mediterranean, and intra-EU rivalries playing out in the boundaries of what was once one of both Africa and the Arab-majority world’s most stable, if entirely unfree, states.

Also this weekend I have new piece for New Africa Daily on the violent competition between al-Qaeda and IS-affiliated groups operating while clashing with one another in West Africa’s Sahel region. As has been well reported via militant propaganda sourcing and analysis, these transnational terror groups have been at each other’s throats from Syria to Yemen though it was supposed by some analysts and reporters that they were perhaps cooperating in the Sahel. Any dynamic is possible of course but I personally don’t really see how this would work. Both groups are in fierce competition for ideological primacy on the salafi battlefield. Despite both ostensibly having the same mujahid roots dating back to the Cold War in Central Asia, there is only room for one salafi-jihadi war-fighting group in the psychological battle space because there is only one method to adhere to tawhid, unblemished monotheism. Any variation or innovation with regard to this brittle form of monotheism can be slandered as veiled polytheism known as shirk that gives way to idolatry, the antithesis of tawhid.

Libya, under the al-Qadaffi regime, built infrastructure in Sahel countries like Mali to extend its influence deeper into Africa in the context of the late Libyan ruler’s megalomania complex. Today Libya exports chaos devoid of brick-and-mortar benefits.
©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Part of salafi-jihad manifested itself in Mali and now Niger, Burkina Faso, and the greater Lake Chad Basin region was the large scale looting of al-Qaddafi’s fief-like arsenal throughout 2011. As the regime retreated thanks to rebel advances amplified by air strikes in a poorly thought out military intervention, arms ended up on illicit but crucial trans-Saharan and then trans-Sahelian trading routes. The ad hoc revolution in Libya resulted in catastrophic consequences for Mali first and foremost but then for other Sahel states. Now not only is radical Sunni militant violence wreaking havoc in already fragile states, but these zero-sum aspirants are fighting each other.