From Libya to Mali: Triumphs and Consequences

Published: January 23, 2013

Bonny Ibhawoh, associate professor at McMaster University, describes how a lack of international action in post-Gadhafi Libya has exacerbated the conflict in Mali.

When the Gadhafi regime in Libya collapsed in 2011 following a mass uprising and civil war, the international community welcomed the ousting of a tyrannical dictator. But even in the euphoria of the moment, some observers of the region urged caution. I wrote in an article on The Mark at the time:

An even more disturbing concern – which has received very little attention in the media – is the impact that the Libyan crisis could have on the rest of Africa. During his 40 years in power, Gadhafi has thrown his influence and money across the continent to prop up or bring down governments. He has done this more than any other African leader. His fingerprints can be found on armed conflict from Chad to Sudan to the Central African Republic. He has also cultivated a loyal band of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa that he now uses to terrorize his own people.

The broader fallouts of the Libyan civil war and the collapse of the Gadhafi regime are now becoming evident. The insurgency gathering pace in Mali has been exacerbated by an influx of arms from the 2011 Libyan civil war. Among the Islamist rebel groups sweeping south from northern Mali is the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) led by Malian Tuareg who, while in exile in Libya, fought alongside Gadhafi’s forces. Once the Gadhafi regime collapsed, some of these well-trained and battle-hardened militants retreated south to Mali.

The international community, led by France, is now scrambling to do what should have been done much earlier – engage effectively to strengthen security and reconstruction in post-Gadhafi Libya. It is estimated that only about a quarter of the surface-to-air missiles accounted for before the conflict in Libya could be accounted for afterwards. It is almost inevitable that some are now being used by the Islamist rebels in Mali.

This is the tragedy of how the international community has addressed conflicts in this region – false steps, missteps, too little too late. The circle simply continues. There is simply no political will to act until security situations get totally out of hand; then there is a scramble for a Band-Aid solution. Peace is not actively cultivated. We must learn to wage peace as vigorously as we wage war. It would have taken much less effort on the part of the international military to enforce security and promote reconstruction in Libya than what is now being put into pushing back the Islamist insurgents in Mali. It reminds me of the old adage, “a stitch in time saves nine.”

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

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  • Malian soldiers stand guard as Mali's President Dioncounda Traore speaks to French troops at an air base in Bamako
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