The fall of Qaddafi’s regime, followed by his death on 20 October, could pave the way to promises of democracy in Libya but left neighbouring countries facing new potential problems that could threaten stability in the region.
Africa without Qaddafi: The Case of Chad , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, warns that those potential new problems created by the upheavals related to Qaddafi’s demise include a massive flight home of migrants, the possible resurgence of militant Islamism and the proliferation of fighters and weapons. Several uncertainties remain regarding the future of Chad-Libyan relations. Will the Chadian government and the new rulers of Tripoli be able to win each other’s trust and put aside grievances born during the eight months of crisis? How will the volatile situation in Libya’s south impact on these relations? What will be Libya’s new policy on the Chad-Sudan equation? More generally, given Qaddafi’s impact on the continent, what will be Libya’s new relationship with the rest of Africa?
“Chad’s President Déby saw Qaddafi as essential to his own regional policy – he was reluctant to accept the possibility of his fall when the Libyan insurgency broke out and slow to realise its full consequences”, says Saad Adoum, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Senior Analyst. “However, he knows from recent history that hostile relations with Libya’s new authorities could quickly endanger the stability of northern Chad”.
During his 42-year reign, Qaddafi was time and again an actor in and mediator of Chad’s conflicts. After initially playing an active role in destabilising the north, he contributed in recent years to bringing relative peace to that historically rebellious zone by mediating between armed groups. When the crisis in Libya began, Déby initially tried to defend Qaddafi’s political legitimacy by accusing the rebels of colluding with Islamists.
Though Déby’s government denied it was providing any military support, the presence of Chadian fighters among Qaddafi’s troops in Libya stripped his statements of weight. This had serious consequences for the treatment of Chadian nationals in Libya in areas where the insurgents gained control, though at least the overwhelming majority have been in the country for years for purely economic reasons. It was only when NATO intervened and power shifted away from Qaddafi, that the Chadian government took a more strategic and realistic stance, calling for negotiations and establishing preliminary contacts with the transitional insurgent authorities (the NTC). Given the security and economic interests at stake, Chad has now recognised the ex-rebels, and Déby has met with the NTC leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil. But despite this rapprochement, the future of relations remains uncertain.
N’Djamena is also legitimately concerned for the plight of Chadian nationals in Libya. The new rulers of Libya and Déby should put aside grievances born during the crisis and ensure that economic cooperation and exchanges are maintained and that civilians, including each other’s nationals, are protected in both countries.
“Due to the length of his reign, his influence abroad and strong patronage politics, Qaddafi’s shadow will continue to be felt in Libya and neighbouring countries”, says Central Africa Project Director Thierry Vircoulon. “It is too early to say whether the changes will turn into medium- and long-term factors of instability in the region, but Chad’s uncertainties show what Africa without Qaddafi may look like”.