African viewpoint: Dying to leave Libya

Migrants arriving in Lampedusa, April 2011

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo looks at the consequences of the intractable war in Libya.

Back in August 2010, when Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was still being feted across Europe - his eccentricities tolerated, his dictatorship ignored - the Libyan leader warned that Europe would have to pay Libya 5bn euros ($7bn, £4.3bn) a year to stem the tide of illegal immigrants, and avoid Europe "turning black".

"We don't know what will happen," said the brother leader, clearly warming to his role as Europe's saviour.

"What will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans?"

Start Quote

There are allegations that since Col Gaddafi has his back against the wall, like the proverbial wounded beast, he has found the time to hatch a master plan that involves flooding Europe with migrants”

End Quote

Of course, back then the Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini promised to discuss this inspired solution at a Europe-Africa summit in Col Gaddafi's Tripoli.

Whatever the results of that discussion, we know now that events have turned full circle, and the colonel is under siege from an influx of Nato bombs that have flattened "command and control centres" and killed one of his sons and three of his grandchildren, not to mention their effect on Libyan citizens.

Obviously the coverage has slowed down a little, we have, after all, had a wedding and the killing of the world's most wanted man to focus on in recent weeks, but the Libyan crisis has begun spilling refugees across the Egyptian and Tunisian borders with increasing frequency, and graphic images of falling bombs and protracted war must be the reality for those citizens still within the colonel's control.

And despite large contingents of reporters in Tripoli and Benghazi, it is difficult to gauge the activities of those fighting on the colonel's behalf.

Are they soldiers of fortune or conviction patriots? How long can they continue?

What truth is there in emerging reports that this green-clad army is being forced to rape and commit the kind of war crimes that could one day attract the attentions of the International Criminal Court?

And will the ICC be just as interested in the deaths of black Africans at the hands of anti-Gaddafi rebels?

Nato's dilemma
A supporter removes dust from a framed picture of Muammar Gaddafi, in front of a building that was bombed and burnt in Tripoli on 21 May 2011 A supporter of the colonel dusts his portrait after a bombing in Tripoli last weekend

For those trapped in this reality the next best move then is to undertake the great crossing that has had North African immigrants landing on European soil.

Earlier this month the United Nations High Commission for Refugees alleged that more than 800 people had drowned in unsafe boats trying to make it to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa and onward to the first world and dubious safety.

While the colonel had once predicted Europe turning "black" because of sub-Saharan economic migration setting off from his beaches, it is in fact the "Arab Spring" and his own stomach for a fight that has set off wave upon wave of immigrants across the Mediterranean.

In the midst of all this there are allegations that since Col Gaddafi has his back against the wall, like the proverbial wounded beast, he has found the time to hatch a master plan that involves flooding Europe with migrants.

How bad is the problem?

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has noticed a significant rise in the numbers of Libyans crossing the seas.

"Until recently, the flow to Europe was overwhelmingly Tunisian and there were no departures by sea from Libya…. [now] a total of 12,360 people on 35 vessels have arrived in Lampedusa and Malta from Libya," said the IOM's spokesman, Jean Philippe Chauzy.

Such figures should not, of course, surprise us - Libya's coast line is 1,770km (1,100 mile) long.

Migration to greener pastures has always been a feature of the modern world, but escape from war and destruction is a stronger human instinct.

A family observe the destruction in Tripoli Street, the centre of fighting between the rebels and Muammar Gaddafi forces in Misrata, Libya, Sunday, 22 May 2011 The bombing has left parts of Misrata in ruins

Which leaves Nato with a dilemma - do they continue to bomb Col Gaddafi's forces in order to "protect civilians" or do they also use their superior equipment to identify sinking boats and save civilians from drowning?

As this year of great events reaches its mid-point, it is clear to see that the news which gripped us when Tunis and Cairo were inspiring great faith in people power has given way to great uncertainty.

Running out of handcuffs

How long will the Libyan crisis continue? And now that spring has arrived in Egypt, has the army changed?

Are they distributing the flowers of their spring or are they still the same institution that kept Hosni Mubarak in power?

Nato jet fighter trails seen over the blue skies of the Libyan capital Tripoli on 17 May 2011 Residents of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, are getting used to regular air strikes

Meanwhile French police were reported to be running out of handcuffs because of the sheer number of Tunisian illegal immigrants being arrested on French soil.

As for the colonel - the noises demanding his departure seem to have turned to an acceptance of his impending death or assassination as a final solution.

The unstated feeling amongst Africans is easy to decipher: If only those Libyan rebels would take charge of their own revolution then we would all feel a little more comfortable with all these uncomfortable events.

As things stand, none of us is aware of the accurate figures for the dead following nearly three months of fighting in Libya.

The fight "to protect civilians" is not doing what it says on the tin.

Libyan citizens are being raped, collateral damage from bombs has included rebels, civilians and the dictator's grandchildren.

And now we learn Libyans are drowning in the Mediterranean within sight of Nato's forces, prompting the UNHCR's appeal to European states to "put in place more reliable and efficient mechanisms for rescue in the Mediterranean".

While there is no such thing as a war without end, who is to say the colonel's last stand will not be felt for years to come, fuelling the kind of conflicts and divisions which will not be easily ended by bombs in both North Africa and southern Europe?

If you would like to comment on Farai Sevenzo's column, please do so below.


More on This Story

Letter from Africa

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    People, how comes , that human beings are more human than others in Libya? The UN sets up a mechanism to protect Libyans from being killed, but can not protect blacks in Libya from rebels killings of black Libyans?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    In addition, the plight and murder of the scores of “Black Libyans” or foreign workers from sub-Sahara(n) Africa, which in many cases were barbarically decapitated and mutilated, have been ignored and not even covered by the same media outlets that talked about Qaddafi using African mercenaries

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    What the outside media managed to do was present footage of some of these black-skinned Libyans serving in the Libyan military and police forces under the label of foreign mercenaries. This was done to demonize Qaddafi and to create an atmosphere for intervention, because Qaddafi was presented as killing his people with a massive army of African mercenaries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Mark and mariamogo
    if you could check lizzi libration blog it would explain the whole situation in libya and also Who is behind the Massacres and Acts of Brutality in Libya? Stories were also presented that Libyan forces were killing individuals from within their own ranks that refused to fight.
    TO FOLLOW......... next

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    In Libya many Libyans are black-skinned. They are not foreigners or mercenaries. Amongst the Negroid Libyans are the Haratins (Harratins) and the Tuareg people (Kel Tamajaq or Kel Tamashq) in the south. These Libyans are as Libyan as the other inhabitants of the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Being an Arab does not ascribe one to any particular phenotype or physical look, because it is the use of the Arabic language that defines the Arab identity. Arabs can be black-skinned or of a Mediterranean complexion or of a fair-skinned complexion with blond hair. The same is true about being a Berber. This is also very true of all Libyans and other North Africans.


  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The Racist Demonization of Black Libyans by the Mainstream Media

    Racist and exaggerated reports about mercenaries were inseminated globally about the so-called “African mercenaries.” Many members of the Libyan military and the Libyan general population were presented as foreigners from other African countries. In reality, many Libyans are black-skinned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Video evidence from within Libya actually proved that video footage presented alongside these reports about Libya was spun. It was not the Libyan forces that killed these men, but elements within the Libyan opposition. Videos showing torture and brutal treatment of civilians, including a small boy, by elements from within the ranks of the rebel fighters are also appearing

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    "use their superior equipment to identify sinking boats and save civilians from drowning? "

    to see this we will be waiting for ever. It is a major problem where the rest of the "big" nations all play neutral and the African leaders seem to get their tongue caught. A louder VOICE and machinery is needed to STOP the killings on a rampagne of "protecting the civilians.


Comments 5 of 14


More Africa stories



Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.