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Libya: Dark And Very Ugly Secrets Surfacing
   Next Article → COLOMBIA: Border Blues
March 24, 2012: A year after the rebellion against Kaddafi began, the dictatorship is gone but so is any effective government. The regional, tribal, and city militias that were organized during the months of fighting have not disbanded and many refuse to recognize the authority of the NTC (National Transitional Council). This is supposed to be fixed by the June 23rd national elections but without cooperation from all the militias, the June elections won't work and seem likely to be delayed.

Civil war is brewing and the goal will be to control the oil income. There are over 200,000 armed men in Libya, most of them belonging to a tribal or local militia. Some of these militias have set themselves up as local governments and are demanding "taxes" from businesses. So far, the NTC retains control of the oil trade. But that may not last. Success in avoiding civil war rests on the ability of the NTC leaders to negotiate unity deals with the many independent-minded factions. The NTC has managed to negotiate deals to gain control of airports, border crossings, and oil production and shipping facilities. But payments must be made and disputes can still arise over the power, and cost, of over a hundred militias spread all over the country. NTC efforts to disarm Libyans have been unsuccessful. Having a rifle or pistol in the house is seen as a form of insurance, along with a small stash of gold coins or gems. Just in case.

There won't be any oil income if the fighting damages the oil fields deep in the desert or the pipelines that bring the oil to the ports where tankers move the stuff to foreign buyers. The cash from that is what keeps Libya going. The NTC has a $22 billion a year payroll (the government is the largest employer) and spends $14 billion on providing electricity, fuel, and other goods to citizens. Kaddafi used oil revenue to run a welfare state, which made most Libyans fearful of opposing him. The NTC has to continue this welfare state spending for a while and expects to come up $10 billion short in the next year. The NTC is looking for loans. Libya is a good credit risk, as it has over $5 trillion worth of oil reserves. But not much money is available right now. Oil production declined 98 percent during the fighting and is not quite back to half its pre-war level. The oil dependent economy shrank 60 percent in the last year and most Libyans are feeling the pain and are not happy about it. Because of the oil income (which accounted for half the GDP) Libya was, on paper, well off.

But the reality was otherwise. An international ranking of “quality-of-life” (QOL) listed Libya as 70 out of 111 nations. For comparison purposes, note the ranking from 62nd to 83rd place: Bahrain (62nd place), Lithuania, Jamaica, Morocco, Latvia, Oman, Estonia, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, India, Paraguay, Jordan, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Albania, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Algeria, Bolivia, and Tunisia. What’s important to note here is that GDP helps but does not guarantee a higher QOL. Indonesia (just below Libya) had about a third the GDP per capita of Libya and much less oil. Jamaica had higher QOL and a GPD per capita similar to Indonesia (as did many other nations, such as Costa Rica, with ten percent less GDP per capita having a QOL rank of 36). Libya was in trouble because it was a dictatorship, with Kaddafi and his cronies running a command (they make all the decisions) economy. This does not work and causes political and economic complaints that grow worse decade after decade. This brought about the collapse of the communist states in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s (including the Soviet Union). This economic and political decline caught up with Libya this year.

There are other problems brewing, this time in the southwest, among the Tuareg tribes. The Tuareg of Libya have been quiet so far, but Moamar Kaddafi's long support of all Tuareg tribes to the south has led to a Tuareg uprising in Mali and a military coup there in response. Most of the 1.5 million Tuareg in the region are living in nations bordering Algeria (Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, and Niger). Mali has faced rebellious Tuareg for a long time and made peace with most of them in 2007. The current bunch of Tuareg rebels insist that they have no connection with al Qaeda or other Islamic radical groups, but many other Tuaregs do and there's no denying that. A year ago Libyan diplomats and agents were seen recruiting Tuareg tribesmen in Niger, Mali, Algeria, and Burkina Faso to fight in Libya to keep Kaddafi in power. Kaddafi had been hiring Tuareg to fight for him for decades, so there was a willingness among young Tuaregs to take the money ($10,000 to sign up and over a thousand a week thereafter) to risk their lives for a desperate dictator. Kaddafi had the cash and trucks to recruit and transport several thousand of these Tuareg mercenaries north. While many of these Tuaregs were killed by NATO bombs or Libyan rebels, most made it back to their homes late last year, and that's when the Mali Tuareg uprising began anew.

The battlefield down there, on the southern border of Algeria and Libya, is where the Sahara desert turns into the semi-desert Sahel, a band of barely livable land stretching from the Atlantic coast to Somalia. Libya has restless Tuareg down south as well but not as many as Mali. Most of the Tuareg are in Algeria, Mali, and Niger.

Members of the 7,000 man Mali army staged a coup in the capital on the 21st and the president went into hiding among loyal troops. News of the coup caused demoralization among the several thousand troops in the north, where several thousand Tuareg tribesmen are trying to establish a separate state. As troops withdrew to the south, the Tuaregs began advancing and occupying towns and military bases.

The coup is led by mid ranking officers who insist that new presidential elections will be held as soon as "national unity" (all opposition is silenced) and "territorial integrity" (the Tuareg rebels are defeated) is taken care of. No word on how long that might take, but it appears that the scheduled presidential elections next month are not going to happen. The mutinous soldiers were upset at a perceived lack of support by the government. The troops wanted more weapons and equipment to deal with the Tuareg rebels up north. The government preferred more emphasis on negotiation. The Tuaregs have been a problem for centuries, as they are ethnically distinct from the Arab and Berber people living to the north (the Maghreb) and those (mostly Bantu or other black African groups) to the south.

Libya has other problems outside Libya. A program last year, to provide medical treatment abroad for wounded rebels was corrupted (not unusual in Libya). Local militia and tribal authorities were allowed to decide who was eligible to go abroad for treatment and the NTC provided cash for that purpose. But soon anyone with the right connections, or a large enough bribe, got a trip to a European or Moslem country for "medical treatment." Many of those going abroad on this program were not ill but they got to take family members as well and expected the NTC to pay them a stipend (several hundred dollars a month) while they were abroad. But many of these travelers were actually migrating, and the NTC cut off the stipends and cracked down on who was going. The NTC had to do this because the "medical treatment abroad" program was draining huge amounts of cash from what little the NTC had and making most Libyans (who were not in on the boondoggle) angry.

March 22, 2012: Mauritania denied that it had agreed to turn over Kaddafi's secret police chief, Abdullah Al Senussi. While Mauritania had arrested Senussi for entering the country (from Morocco) on a false passport on the 16th, they are under no obligation to honor a Libyan extradition request. If Senussi can muster enough cash and friends he can escape to whichever sanctuary he was headed for. Libya and many Western and Arab intelligence agencies want to talk to Senussi, who was the keeper of Kaddafi's most embarrassing and explosive secrets (involving torture, terror, and dirty deeds in general). Mauritania is under pressure from many nations to turn over Senussi. One of the things foreigners would like to discuss with Senussi was a recently discovered (by the NTC) Kaddafi program to store weapons and bomb making materials at many Libyan embassies around the world. These weapons were to be used to kill Libyan expatriates who were causing Kaddafi problems and support local terrorists who were working for Kaddafi. Senussi is believed to have been involved with this embassy terrorism support program, which has been in place for decades.

March 16, 2012: In Benghazi a rally in support of autonomy for eastern Libya was attacked by some armed men and one protester was killed.

March 15, 2012: Police broke up a people smuggling gang, run by a Bangladeshi man, which smuggled people from South Asia and Somalia to Europe, via North Africa.

March 13, 2012: Libya and eight other North African nations have agreed to improve border security and do more to hamper smuggling (of people and goods).

March 9, 2012: Thousands of people demonstrated, in eastern and western Libya, against regional autonomy.

March 8, 2012: A militia, which has been controlling the Tripoli airport since Kaddafi was overthrown last year, has agreed to turn control of the airport (the nation's largest) over to the NTC.

Next Article → COLOMBIA: Border Blues