Libyan Ventures in Sub-Saharan Africa

Libya Table of Contents

Qadhafi's approach to sub-Saharan Africa revolved around several basic concerns: the attempt to increase Libyan influence in Muslim or partly Muslim states, promotion of Islamic unity, and support, often uncritical, for African liberation movements. One of Qadhafi's frequently stated goals was the creation of a Saharan Islamic state, but critics accused him of being more interested in empire than in fostering and promoting Islam. The aforementioned objectives governed his relations with African states, and nowhere more so than in neighboring Chad and Sudan.

Libya had been deeply involved in Chad since the early 1970s. Reasons for this involvement included tribal and religious affinities between northern Chad and southern Libya and a contested common border dating back to the colonial period. In 1973 Libya occupied the Aouzou Strip. The territory, which allegedly contains significant deposits of uranium and other minerals, gave the Libyans a solid foothold in Chad. From his Aouzou Strip base Qadhafi also gave moral and material aid to northern dissidents in the prolonged Chadian civil war. In the late 1970s, these dissidents were led Goukouni Oueddei, the leader of the Tebu.

After failure in the 1970s of mediation efforts in which Libya was deeply involved, Qadhafi provided equipment and troops to Goukouni that enabled him to capture N'Djamena, Chad's capital, in December 1980. In January the two leaders called for a merger of their countries, but the outcry among a number of West African states and from France, the former Chadian colonial power, was so great that the proposal was dropped. Even within Goukouni's own forces, there was considerable opposition to Libya's presence and tactics. Under persistent international pressure, Libya's estimated 10,000 to 15,000 troops withdrew to the Aouzou Strip in November 1981. Opposition forces under Hissein Habré subsequently drove Goukouni back north, leaving Habré in control of N'Djamena, from which he pressed unsuccessfully for Libya's withdrawal from Aouzou.

During the 1970s, relations between Libya and Sudan went from bad to worse. At the beginning of the decade, Qadhafi aided Sudanese President Jaafar an Numayri against leftist plotters. But by the mid-1970s, relations had turned hostile after Numayri accused Libya of subversion and of responsibility for several coup attempts. Thereafter, Sudan belonged to the camp of Qadhafi's sworn opponents. In 1980 Numayri condemned the Libyan invasion of Chad, being especially fearful of Libyan meddling in Sudan's troubled border province of Darfur. In early 1981, Numayri called for Libya's expulsion from the Arab League and for a joint effort to overthrow or kill Qadhafi. A few months later, he ordered Libyan diplomats to leave Khartoum in the wake of a bombing of the Chadian embassy linked to Libyan instigation.

Libyan intervention in Uganda in the 1970s constituted a special case. There Qadhafi was interested less in unity than in bolstering a friendly Islamic regime against both internal and external opposition. Beginning in 1972, Qadhafi gave financial and military backing to Idi Amin Dada in return for Amin's disavowal of Uganda's previously close relationship with Israel. Thereafter, Qadhafi continued to back Amin, despite the wide condemnation of Amin's brutal rule. In late 1978 and early 1979, when combined Tanzanian-Ugandan forces drove Amin from power, Qadhafi unsuccessfully airlifted troops and supplies in Amin's defense, and he granted the Ugandan leader temporary asylum in Tripoli.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress