August 25, 2011

Qaddafi's fall helps Africans more than Arabs

It would be a mistake to think that the imminent fall of longtime Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi will directly impact developments across the Middle East. Within Africa, however the consequences may be far-reaching.

Qaddafi's departure will measurably ease the burden of the Arab League's deliberations, but could fundamentally alter Africa's power equation. Not so long ago, the Arab heads of state were holding one of their periodic, closed-door deliberations. Qaddafi suddenly proposed a joint invasion of Israel, to solve the Palestinian issue once and for all. Going around the table, the self-styled "king of kings" started assigning tanks and planes to each leader, based on the combined Arab numbers. When told how many hundreds of warplanes he should command, a dazed Bashar Assad -- Israel's most dangerous neighbor, no less -- asked what he was supposed to do with 100 or 200 fighter jets. Almost literally, for several years now, Qaddafi's voice has been the sound of one hand clapping inside the Arab tent.

So far, all the successful power shifts of the past year -- Arab or otherwise -- have occurred in Africa: Tunisia, Egypt, Cote d'Ivoire, Libya. When he gave up his presumed WMD program following our invasion of Iraq, Qaddafi did not forswear his true weapons of mass destruction: hundreds of thousands of guns circulating around the continent with his imprimatur. But by last year, when he made a play to continue as head of the African Union, he was rebuffed by the African tribes he'd sought to control and unite.

Had Qaddafi truly wished to resolve the Palestinian issue, rather than playing weekend general, he could have brokered some new accord by trading on his hardline image and Libya's storied relationship to the Jewish community. Had he truly wished to undo the evil power imbalance at the United Nations, he could have used his defiant General Assembly speech to quit the UN, calling on all African leaders to follow him out the door then and there. Had it worked, the UN would be a shambles, but of course it wasn't tried. Words are only words.

Qaddafi was suffered by his fellow Arabs, but only because he was no longer a threat to their regimes. The fall of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was far more significant to the Arabs (and Israel) militarily, symbolically and diplomatically, because Egypt is Egypt and Mubarak is Mubarak. As for Africa, it can now continue its painful transition to democracy minus at least one lord of war and fantasy. If the new rulers of Libya and their NATO sponsors are able to round up all the loose weapons, the millions of Africans still enduring repression and starvation will have that much better odds at eventual peace and prosperity.

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