SA could cushion Gaddafi’s potential fall – analysts

2011-03-09 08:48

Nairobi – South Africa could play a key role in finding a home for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, according to some analysts.

Now fighting a revolution at home, Gaddafi has been a driving force behind the African Union, his largesse has extended Libya’s economic reach throughout sub-Saharan Africa and he still has some close friends in power.

But analysts say that many African leaders have become frustrated with Gaddafi’s erratic behaviour, that some still harbour grudges over past meddling in internal conflicts and that others may not want to tarnish their images further by giving him a home.

Libya and South Africa have certainly had close ties in the past. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he visited Libya to thank Gaddafi for his support in the fight against apartheid.

While Gaddafi’s relations with former president Thabo Mbeki were sometimes testy – notably over the Libyan leader’s vision for a United States of Africa – ties have improved under President Jacob Zuma.

“South Africa would be sympathetic. There’s the whole history, the rhetoric, the money to the ANC, and Zuma has met him on several occasions,” says an Africa specialist.

Sub-Saharan Africa

While Gaddafi supported a number of African independence movements, his backing of rebels who tore apart Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the treatment of Africans in Libya, has left some cynical about his objectives in sub-Saharan Africa.

Neighbours such as Chad and Niger may be wary about hosting Gaddafi in case his presence becomes a destabilising influence, and for fear of risking relationships with France.

Gaddafi would also have to weigh carefully whether potential hosts would be able to shield him from any future prosecution at The Hague.

“I am not altogether sure that Gaddafi has any options in Africa that would be both viable at the moment and sustainable even in the intermediate term, much less the long term,” said J Peter Pham, Africa security analyst at the National Committee on American foreign policy.

The two countries cited by analysts as most likely to offer Gaddafi a bolt-hole are Eritrea and Zimbabwe.

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has few friends outside his Horn of Africa nation, but Gaddafi is one of them. Isaias has visited Gaddafi regularly and Libya was the only Security Council member to vote against UN sanctions on Eritrea in 2009.

Isaias described his country’s relations with Libya as “special and historical” during a visit by Libyan media to Asmara last year, and said the two countries shared similar views on regional and international issues.

The usual suspects

“Eritrea has close relations with Gaddafi, and Isaias does not seem concerned about the views of his African colleagues,” said David Shinn, a former US ambassador to Eritrea’s neighbour Ethiopia.

As long as Isaias remains in power, Gaddafi should be safe from any international prosecution.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is also a long-standing ally of Gaddafi and has provided a safe haven for former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam for 20 years.

But with the exception of those two countries, analysts say Gaddafi’s options in Africa are limited, and Mugabe might prefer to host Gaddafi under a negotiated deal to score some points on the continent for helping solve an African problem.

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