[Dehai-WN] TheeastAfrican.co.ke: Why black Africans are becoming the target of racist attacks by Libya's new rulers

[Dehai-WN] TheeastAfrican.co.ke: Why black Africans are becoming the target of racist attacks by Libya's new rulers

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sun, 2 Oct 2011 19:53:50 +0200

Why black Africans are becoming the target of racist attacks by Libya's new

By PATRICK GATHARA ( <javascript:void(0);> email the author)

Posted Sunday, October 2 2011 at 11:48

Contrary to what the African Union would have you believe, most people on
the continent, including many potentates, were probably glad to see the back
of the self-styled King of Kings. By the time of his overthrow, Col Muammar
Gaddafi had become something of a sick joke - a veritable madman with
grandiose visions of a United States of Africa, who had stoked murderous
wars and insurrections across the continent. But following the spate of
racially inspired atrocities committed by rebel forces in the wake of his
ouster, for many of Libya's black residents, it seems to be a case of: "The
King is Dead. Long Live the King!"

The Gaddafi days were hardly a bed of roses for darkies. According to an
October 2000 article published in the Economist at the height of another
pogrom targeting sub-Saharan immigrants, Libya has had a long history of
racism: "Libyans were slave-trading until the 1930s and, under Italian
colonial rule, they saw themselves as mediterranean, calling Africans

Despite the rhetoric of pan-Africanism, Libya under Gaddafi remained a
staunchly mediterranean country. Despite indigenous blacks forming 20 per
cent of the population, a majority resented his overtures to their southern
neighbours, preferring instead to break bread with the Arabs of the Middle
East. Being one of the richest on the continent with the 10th largest proven
oil reserves of any country in the world and the 17th highest petroleum
production, they wanted to live in a better neighbourhood. Unfortunately,
Gaddafi had other ideas, which would involve the use of millions of dollars
of Libyan wealth to curry African favour, including bankrolling the AU
itself as well as several armed rebellions and buying himself a legion.

As a result, though in 2009 the country had the fourth highest GDP per
capita on the continent, 20.7 per cent of her population was unemployed,
according to the Oea newspaper, widely seen as the most influential in Libya
because of its close links to Gaddafi's youngest son, Saif al Islam. In more
than 16 per cent of families, not a single member was earning a stable

Faced with such dire straits at home, it is understandable that Gaddafi's
profligacy abroad would rankle the hundreds of thousands of job-seeking
immigrants from the south who flooded Libya at his invitation. According to
Hein de Haas, a senior research officer at the International Migration
Institute of the Department of International Development at the University
of Oxford, "since the 1990s, Gaddafi had actively stimulated immigration
from sub-Saharan countries such as Chad and Niger as part of his
'pan-African' policies. These immigrants from extremely poor countries were
easier to exploit than Arab workers. From the year 2000 onwards, violent
clashes between Libyans and African workers led to the street killings of
dozens of sub-Saharan migrants, who were routinely blamed for rising crime,
disease and social tensions."

In a paper, The Myth of Invasion, Haas elaborates on Gaddafi's motivations.
In 1992, the UN Security Council's imposed an air and arms embargo on Libya
after the regime refused to hand over two intelligence agents accused of
carrying out the Lockerbie bombing. Feeling abandoned by fellow Arab
nations, Gaddafi "embarked upon a radical reorientation of Libyan foreign
policy in which he positioned himself as an African leader."

Popular sport

In a bid to get around the air travel bans and the subsequent international
isolation, he opened his land borders to the Sudanese, Chadians and
Nigeriens, offering them the opportunity to work in Libya "in the spirit of
pan-African solidarity." What was traditionally a destination for Egyptian
and Tunisian migrants now became a major destination for sub-Saharan
workers. By 2000, they numbered over a million or nearly a fifth of the
total population. As tensions rose, black-bashing became a popular afternoon
sport for Libya's unemployed youths. The feared security agencies did little
to stop them.

Interestingly, the immigration policy represents a total about-face for
Gaddafi in his dealings with the continent. Two decades earlier, in 1973,
just three years after taking power, he donned the garb of an Arab cultural
supremacist and created what he called the Islamic Legion. Modelled on the
French Foreign Legion, it was supposed to be a force for Arabizing the
region, and creating the Great Islamic State of the Sahel. Conveniently,
Gaddafi's definition of "Arab" was broad, including the Tuareg of Mali and
Niger, as well as the Zaghawa of Chad and Sudan. According to Alasdair
McKay, a researcher for the UK Defence Forum: "Despite the Arab and
Islamic-focused ambitions of the group, the Legion was comprised of
individuals from various ethnic origins."

The online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, suggests that the force may even have
included thousands of Pakistanis. It quotes a French journalist, speaking of
the Legion's forces in Chad, who observed that they were "foreigners, Arabs
or Africans, mercenaries in spite of themselves, wretches who had come to
Libya hoping for a civilian job, but found themselves signed up more or less
by force to go and fight in an unknown desert."

Though the Legion was primarily associated with the 9-year Libyan-Chadian
conflict, some legionnaires were sent to Lebanon, Syria, Uganda and
Palestine, though to no great effect. In 1980, 7,000 legionnaires took part
in the second battle of N'Djamena, the Chadian capital, and distinguished
themselves by their ineptitude. Following the humiliating retreat from Chad,
Gaddafi disbanded the Legion in 1987.

However, the Legion's dissolution did not necessarily mean the end of his
dream to achieve regional Arab supremacy. Soon after, he was sponsoring
another ''Arab Gathering'', which many of his former legionnaires joined.
"With its racist ethos of Arab supremacy, writes McKay, the Gathering's
ideology. evoked a potent and compelling mythology concerning Arabs in the
region, tracing the origin of the Juhanya Arabs [of the Sudan] back to the
Prophet Muhammad."

At the beginning of the 1987 Libyan offensive on Chad, the Legion maintained
a force of 2,000 in Darfur. Continuous cross-border raids greatly
contributed to a separate ethnic conflict within Darfur that killed about
9,000 people between 1985 and 1988. By the turn of the millennium, the world
would know the "Arab Gathering" by a more sinister name, Janjaweed, and they
would be accused of committing genocide in Darfur. Other legacies of the
Legion include the bloody Tuareg rebellions of 1989 and 1990 in Mali and


A particularly brutal and ironic legacy of the Legion is to be found in the
current persecution of blacks in Tripoli and in other "liberated" Libyan
cities. Many have been rounded up and some have even been hung or shot after
being accused of being mercenaries fighting for Gaddafi.

Others have seen their homes trashed, their earnings stolen and their
daughters raped despite the fact that initial estimates of tens of thousands
of black mercenaries have proven to be unfounded. In fact, Amnesty
International accuses the National Transitional Council, Libya's interim
government of "wildly exaggerating" the issue of foreign mercenaries.

"They have made matters worse. They have ignited public anger by tapping
into an existing xenophobia with very dire consequences for many guest
workers," said Diana El Tahawy, the group's Libya researcher.

Having been lied to, conscripted and sent unprepared into war outside Libya,
and made the subject of regular pogroms within it, black immigrants to Libya
have little reason to support Gaddafi. However, today, they find themselves
in the crosshairs of a new revolutionary regime. Killings, rapes, assaults
and theft committed against innocents were the hallmarks of the Gaddafi
regime. The actions of the "liberators" will erode their confidence that the
National Transitional Council is any better than Gaddafi was.

Soldiers of the National Transitional Council hold African prisoners in
Tripoli. Picture: File

Soldiers of the National Transitional Council hold African prisoners in
Tripoli. Picture: File


      ------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------

(image/jpeg attachment: image001.jpg)

Received on Sun Oct 02 2011 - 13:54:12 EDT
© Copyright DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine, 2001
All rights reserved