The Locusts in the Libyan Skies

April 5, 2011

By Shiv Sethi

Libya is under attack by the US-led NATO forces. The pretext of the attack is humanitarian intervention to save ‘freedom seeking people of Libya’ from a massacre being committed by pro-Gaddafi force.

If history is a suitable guide, we can be sure that when countries like the US, England, and France intervene militarily, the violence escalates by orders of magnitude or a conflict almost certainly makes a transition from occasional skirmish to mass murder bordering on genocide.

Some years ago Gideon Polya had computed ‘extra mortality’ in countries attributable to foreign intervention (Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950, G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007) Which three countries top the list of aggressors causing these deaths in the past 50 years? England, France, and the US., in that order.

The situation in Libya is doubtless very confusing. First, Gaddafi in not what he pretends to be. He has been a willing ally of Western powers for more than a decade and has embraced neoliberalism with gusto in the past 20 years of so. In doing so he has alienated sections of traditional elite and emboldened another section to aspire to move even faster towards privatization of state assets than Gaddafi and his ilk like.

But before attacking Gaddafi for his brutal tactics, we need to see what he faced. In less than a week, he lost control of a large part of the country. This is not what happened in Egypt or Tunisia. From even mainstream press coverage, it is clear that Gaddafi offered international mediation many times to the rebels. It was the rebels and the usual international mediators who rejected those offers. Why would the UN not try to mediate before passing a resolution to attack Libya? From day one of the uprising, US, British, and French officials are belligerent towards Gaddafi? Why? When we reject the ludicrous notion that any of these countries are actually interested in peace from humanitarian perspective, we have to concede that they have acted out of their direct vested interests.

Quite likely, the rebels are confused too. They have so far rejected direct ground intervention but have called for a no fly zone. They probably hope that Western powers will be trustworthy partners. Rebels have not come up with a single political or economic agenda, probably because they are a motley group but most likely because they don’t have one apart from the one that appeases Western powers. Their only war cry appears to be to end the dictatorship of Gaddafi. It is the usual confusing call for ‘democracy’ which is likely to be manipulated by Western powers and NGOs in time to come.

Gaddafi could be a delusional old man but the social contract he built in Libya has not been fully compromised. This social pact extended beyond borders of Libya. In a region riven by historic racial tensions between Arabs and black Africans, more than half a million black Africans from neighbouring countries Chad and Niger came to live in Libya during Gaddafi’s regime.

And the recent uprising gives us an indication which side these immigrants might fight: black Africans have been dubbed ‘Gaddafi’s mercenaries’ by the rebels and currently face constant attacks and expulsion from rebel-held areas.

Libya is not only the richest country in Africa in terms of per capita income, it also leads in every other social index as compared to countries in Africa or even other countries with comparable per capita income from across the world. Of course, this is largely owing to oil riches of Libya. With oil production of over 3 million barrels a day and reserves between 44 to 65 billion barrels, Libya has the largest reserves in Africa and one of the largest in the world. As a BBC article noted less than 1/4 of it has been prospected.

In a feud between two farmers they don’t invite locusts to settle issues. But locusts are there in Libyan skies. Catastrophic consequences await Libyans.

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