Calm appears to be returning to Libya following a knock-down-drag-out violence, which has almost brought the North African country to its knees. The United Nations-supported, internationally-recognised Government of National Accord-led by Fayez al-Sarraj and the Libyan National Army coordinated by Khalifa Haftar, had held the jugular of the country’s eastern and western parts in excruciating violence. Now, the UN mediator reports positive developments after a series of meetings of face-to-face peace talks involving military leaders from the warring parties. A fourth round of the Libyan Joint Military Commission aimed at achieving a permanent cease-fire took place in Geneva, Switzerland, recently.
Now, reports say military officers from the warring sides commenced another three-day meeting focusing on the implementation of the ceasefire agreement reached last month between the internationally recognised government in Tripoli and renegade military commander, Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army. Peace in Libya is essential for political stability in the Sahel region and West Africa.
The military leaders have reached an agreement on several issues, especially the need to avoid any further military escalation. The head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Stephanie Williams, believes these agreements will stick because they are Libyan-owned solutions. After three national elections failed to produce a winner amid gaping chaos, the humanitarian crisis snowballed as displaced Libyans sought asylum in Germany and citizens of several sub-Saharan countries, including Nigerians, faced a dehumanising situation exploring Libya as a key transit point to Europe.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noted that fighting in the country worsened the humanitarian crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It stated that over 300 civilians were killed and 150,000 others displaced from their homes since last April.
Foreign powers supporting Sarraj and Haftar also hinder genuine efforts to end the turmoil in the oil-rich country. Sarraj has the backing of Turkey, Italy and Qatar, while Haftar is being supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The development has turned the Sahel region into a geography of violence fuelled by armed militias, ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups. In 2012, coordinated attacks in Benghazi by Ansar al-Sharia claimed the life of the US ambassador to Libya. The International Organisation for Migration reported in 2019 that Libya has about 343,180 Internally Displaced Persons. This is aside the wanton destruction and deaths recorded as signposts of the calamity.
Libya, whose oil production capacity has nosedived considerably due to the predicament, is important to Africa because its non-stop crisis hurts the economies of neighbouring countries and blights their security efforts with the huge weapons transfer across the Sahel including Sudan, Niger, Nigeria, Lake Chad and Mali. According to the Financial Times, Libya has forgone more than $68 billion in potential oil revenues since 2013 amid the power struggle between rival factions that has brought the energy industry to a near standstill and wrecked the economy.
The estimate by the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation accounts for the value of lost production because of 75 separate oilfield shutdowns and port disruptions. In a report by an intergovernmental group, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, titled, ‘The Geography of Conflict in North and West Africa,’ it disclosed that it was nerve-racking that violence was on the rise in the Sahara-Sahel. It stated, “The degrading security situation has prompted African countries and their partners to intervene militarily to stabilise the region and to prevent the spread of violence against civilians. Tensions regionalise across state borders when armed groups, defeated by counter-insurgency efforts, locate to other countries.”
The UN official said the two warring sides had come together first as Libyans. She added, “The road was long and difficult at times, but your patriotism has been your guide all the time, and you have succeeded in concluding an agreement for a successful and lasting ceasefire we must not forget those Libyans who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of this country, as well as the injured and amputees.”
She noted, “I hope that this agreement will contribute to ending the suffering of the Libyan people and enabling the displaced, both outside and inside the country, to return to their homes and live in peace and security. Much work ahead in the coming days and weeks to implement the commitments contained in this agreement.”
It is particularly unfortunate that African leaders boxed themselves into a corner by their pro-Gaddafi inclinations. Over the decades, the continent rulers have tended to be Africa’s worst enemies of progress. Africa has been dominated by Big Men who just will not go away. They are brazenly corrupt, dangerously dictatorial and madly ambitious. One danger is almost a given: the longer they stay, the higher the risk that their countries will implode when they leave. African Union at this time should be thoroughly involved in the peace process and partake fully in the talks to strengthen security in the region. The AU has roundly rejected foreign military intervention in ending the Libyan crisis and advocated negotiation. Its Peace and Security Department must ignite the union’s regional mediation roles to collaborate with the UN and other bodies to return Libya to the path of greatness and prosperity. Africa cannot afford another episode of violence in Libya as the ruins caused by the unrest in that country still haunt the continent.