Sub-Saharan Africa

Libya Table of Contents

Libya's very active interest in sub-Saharan Africa has been directed toward isolating Israel diplomatically, liberating African countries under colonial or apartheid regimes, providing economic aid to developing African countries, and propagating Islam. During 1972 and 1973, through bilateral relations and membership in the OAU, Libya and other Arab states successfully reversed Israel's formerly strong diplomatic position in Africa. Qadhafi drew a parallel between Israeli occupation of Arab territory and colonialism in Africa and frequently offered significant economic assistance to countries that would sever ties with Israel. By November 1973, twenty-seven African governments had broken relations with Israel, many declaring their support for the PLO in the process.

Libya also has supported numerous black African independence movements, although the extent and nature of the support have not always been clear. Libyan support apparently was significant for Angola (where aid was first extended to Holden Roberto's National Front for the Liberation of Angola, and only later to Agostinho Neto's Movement for the Liberation of Angola, which defeated Roberto's group in a civil war), Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique in their struggles against Portuguese colonialism. Libya continued to contribute funds to liberation efforts throughout 1978. Some sources report that nationalist guerrillas of both Zimbabwe and Namibia have received direct Libyan aid.

For some time, Libya has had a special, if not always smooth, relationship with Uganda. Libya supported the government of Idi Amin in exchange for Uganda's severance of relations with Israel. (A particularly close bilateral relationship had existed between Israel and the Ugandan regime Amin overthrew in 1971.) Libya came to Uganda's assistance in 1972, and again in 1978, when it airlifted troops and supplies, thus demonstrating a certain degree of logistical capability. The aid proved militarily futile, however, as Libyan troops were routed quickly. For a brief period, the deposed Idi Amin found asylum in Tripoli.


Libya's relations with Sudan, like relations with virtually all other Arab and African countries, fluctuated. Initially, Libya supported Sudanese President Jaafar an Numayri against an unsuccessful leftist coup attempt in 1971. Libya turned over two of the top communist plotters to the Sudanese authorities, who executed them shortly afterward. However, a year later Sudan accused Libya of involvement in three successive coup attempts and severed diplomatic relations. Relations began improving by the fall of 1977, as Numayri and Sudanese opposition leaders began a reconciliation. In February 1978, Libya and Sudan agreed to resume relations but relations soon became strained after Qadhafi condemned Sudanese support for President Anwar al Sadat of Egypt and for the Camp David accords of September 1978.

Libya was particularly annoyed by the steadily improving relations between Sudan and Egypt during the closing years of the Numayri regime, which culminated eventually in an Egyptian-Sudanese integration charter that provided Egypt with an air base in Sudan that could serve as a counterweight to Libyan regional power. Feeling threatened by the Cairo-Khartoum alliance and its alignment with the West, in August 1981 Qadhafi formed the Tripartite Alliance with Ethiopia and South Yemen PDRY, each of which was aligned closely with the Soviet Union.

After Numayri's fall from power in April 1985, Sudanese-Libyan relations improved. Qadhafi ended his aid to the Christian and animist, southern-based, Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) led by Garang and welcomed the incoming government of General Sawar Dhahab. In July 1985, a military protocol was signed between the two countries, and Qadhafi was the first head of state to visit the new Khartoum government. Qadhafi then strongly supported Sudanese opposition leader Sadiq al Mahdi, who became prime minister on May 6, 1986. Nonetheless, the initial euphoria was subsequently replaced by Sudan's search for a truly neutral regional and global stance. With regard to the Chadian conflict, for instance, Mahdi's government declared its neutrality and asked that Libyan forces be withdrawn from Sudanese territory. Prime Minister Mahdi's attempts to mediate the Libyan-Chadian conflict have so far proved unsuccessful, although delegations from the warring factions have met several times during 1986 and 1987, under Sudanese aegis.


In 1975 Libya occupied and subsequently annexed the Aouzou Strip a 70,000-square-kilometer area of northern Chad adjacent to the southern Libyan border. Qadhafi's move was motivated by personal and territorial ambitions, tribal and ethnic affinities between the people of northern Chad and those of southern Libya, and, most important, the presence in the area of uranium deposits needed for atomic energy development.

Libyan claims to the area were based on a 1935 border dispute and settlement between France (which then controlled Chad) and Italy (which then controlled Libya). The French parliament never ratified the settlement, however, and both France and Chad recognized the boundary that was proclaimed upon Chadian independence.

Qadhafi became entangled in factional rivalries among the various Chadian groups. In the late 1970s, it appeared as though Libyan ambitions were being achieved. Goukouni Oueddei, a member of the Tebu Muslim tribe in northern Chad, was installed as president in April 1979 with Libyan support. In January 1981, the two countries announced their intention to unite.

Goukouni's overthrow in 1983 led to further Libyan involvement in Chad. From his Libyan exile, Goukouni reorganized his forces and occupied the strategic northern town of Faya Largeau. As the conflict drew in other players, particularly France, Chad was in effect a partitioned country. With French help, the N'Djamena government of Hissein Habré controlled the southern part of Chad. The area north of the sixteenth parallel, however, was controlled by Goukouni and his Libyan backers. According to the terms of a September 1984 treaty, France withdrew its forces from Chad. Libya, however, decided to keep its troops there, and skirmishes and fighting continued intermittently.

The stalemate in Chad ended in early 1987 when the Habré forces inflicted a series of military defeats on the Libyans and their Chadian allies, at Fada, Ouadi Doum, and Faya Largeau. The press engaged in considerable speculation on the repercussions of these humiliations on Qadhafi and his regime. It was reported that Goukouni was being kept forcibly in Tripoli, and that, as a result of some disagreements with the Libyan leader, he was wounded by a Libyan soldier. Qadhafi's position had clearly been weakened by these developments, and the long-term fighting in Chad aroused discontent in the Libyan army as well.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress