If one were to re-compose an old Eritrean Tigrinya song to describe how many times the Eritrean President has visited Libya in the last decade, one of the verses would read like this: ‘Tezewery nefarit tezewereyeTribolin-Asmaran kuynu mezawereye’ (Fly Airplane, fly, the Asmara Tripoli journey has become an entertainment).
Part I focused on the pre-liberation Libyan Eritrean relations. Though the Eritrean president has traveled to Libya many times, the Libyan leader has visited Eritrea only once. In an interview the Eritrean president conducted with Libyan media in Asmara on January 5, 2011, he described the relationship as special and historical. He also stated that he visited Libya when the UN sanctions were imposed on that country and stressed the strong opposition Libya demonstrated when similar sanctions were imposed on Eritrea.
President Isaias’ last reported trip to Libya was about 5 months ago (9- 12 October 2010). Both leaders met in N’djamena on 21st July and then in Libya on the 23rd of the same month. He visited Libya on May 6 and held a telephone conversation with the ‘leader of the Great Arab Socialist Jamahiriya’ on May 14. These are just the reported meetings in 2010. He has been traveling there often to ask for aid in terms of cash or oil or for political consultations for their joint conspiracies in different parts of Africa. It is believed that the Libyan dictator is one of those who finances Eritrea’s involvement in Somalia.
One of the beggars who was rounded up in Asmara when the regime was ‘cleansing the city’ shortly after independence is reported to have challenged his captors by saying, “Why do you stop us from begging while President Isaias is freely traveling from one country to another to beg for money.”
Libya has also its version of Dr. Gideon Abay Asmerom (professors at the service of dictators). He has Dr. Yusuf Shakir who has a daily program called ‘Ashem al Watan’ (hope of the nation) on Jamahiriya TV. In one of his recent programs, speaking on the disaster of Japan, he said, ‘Oh Al mighty God, you see it was not even hours after Japan announced freezing the assets of Gazafi (he did not even mention Libya) that the catastrophe followed’. He is more spiritual than our professor as he claims that saints speak to him in his dreams, that the regime in Libya will come out of this stronger. Both leaders have their ‘tribes’ of supporters. While demonstrators in the Arab world shout ‘Alshaab yriid isgatt al raeis’ (people want to topple the president/regime), the Gazafi thugs shout ‘Al shaab yriid Muaamer al agid’ (people want Muaamer the colonel), and ‘Allah, Muaamer and Libya only’. Our own thugs demonstrate in Europe with the slogan ‘Nihna nsu, nsu nhna’ (we are him and he is us), in support our Isaias.
Gazafi had long fallen with the Arab countries after no one seemed to be interested in his grand ideas of Arab unity that revolved around him and started looking towards Africa to pursue his ideas of unity. He was isolated internationally after the UN sanctions were imposed on Libya in 1992/1993 which were suspended in 1999 and lifted in 2003. Few leaders dared visit Libya during that period. It was during such circumstances that Isaias made his first visit to Libya. He arrived in Tripoli on the 3rd of February 1998 (about three months before the border war with Ethiopia). Due to the air embargo on Libya then, Isaias made a stop-over in Jerba, Tunisia, before he traveled by road to Tripoli. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established during that visit. That trip had paid off and he has since been traveling regularly to Libya. Relations between the two countries improved dramatically after the Eritrean-Ethiopian war. Eritrea became increasingly isolated in Africa due to the erroneous policies it pursued. Libya had more sympathy to Eritrea during the border war with Ethiopia. It has long called for the OAU to be moved from Addis to Tripoli.
In its pursuit of grandeur in Africa the Libyan regime established the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN SAD) on the February 4, 1998, in Tripoli. The founding summit was attended by Gazafi and the heads of States of Mali, Chad, Niger, Sudan and a representative of the President of Burkina Faso. Relations between the two countries became even more closer after Eritrea joined the organization in April 1999. The CEN SAD, with 23 member countries (about 43% of the whole members of the African Union) has become a mini African Union.
The current uprising in Libya has revealed that some Libyans live in slums in abject poverty (GDP estimated at $ 89 billion) while Gazafi spends billions to achieve greatness, to finance terrorist activities and to go away with his crimes by paying heavy compensations as was the case in the Lockerbie incident. He spent lavishly in Africa. It is stated “Libyan government in August 2008, availed massive funds to fly kings, sultans, princes, sheiks and mayors of Africa to Libya, spending time in the country’s top hotels and eating what they want, when they want. The forum met in Tripoli between September 7 and 9 to ratify and affirm an already-drawn-up document, and declared Gaddafi as ‘King of Kings of Africa’”.
Charles Onyango-Obbo recently wrote in the East African noting:
Gaddafi’s Libya supplied 15 per cent of the African Union’s entire budget and pays the annual subscription fee of small, poor African states. In the past decade, he has donated billions of dollars in aid and gifts to African causes and countries, and he established a $1.5 billion African fund. Gaddafi can be catholic in his support, backing all sides to conflicts; he was in the DR Congo, supported rebels in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and of course Chad.
The Libyan dictatorial regime has been able to buy African votes to assume a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2008 and paradoxically a membership in the UN Human Rights Council from which it is suspended at present.
So it is not strange that AU seems to be in support of the Libyan regime. The Libyan Broadcasting Corporation reports regularly that President Teodoro Obiang Ngeuma of Equatorial Guinea, a dictator himself who has been in power since 1978, who is also the current African Union Chairman has regular contacts with Gazafi. A journalist in the country was suspended recently over a Libya mention. When Equatorial Guinea’s Dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema was elected as the chairman of the African Union (AU) in January, Afrol News editor’s comment read “This is the darkest day in the AU’s history.”
Gazafi visited Eritrea in February (7-9) in 2003 where he was received in Massawa and drove to Asmara where thousands of Eritreans were made to line up on the road to greet him, something very much to his taste. Following that visit Eritrean asylum seekers using Libya as transit to Europe came under increasing pressure and mistreatment with the Eritrean embassy having direct access to them. Some 76 Eritreans were forcibly returned to Eritrea in August the same year. Four of the deportees were able to highjack the plane and land in Khartoum.
There are many reports on human rights abuses of Eritreans and other asylum seekers in Libya. One such report by Human Rights Watch describes the situation before the last uprising. Things has gone much worse during the current uprising which has been highlighted in the many appeals made on the behalf of the African refugees in Libya. I am told that it was the late Omer Burj who saved Eritreans in Libya in the 1980s using his close relations to Abdulsalam Jelud. It does not seem we have another Burj this time. Libya has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, and its 1967 Protocol and has no asylum law or procedures which makes matters worse.
Though Gazafi’s philosophy emanates from the Green Book which was translated to Tigrinya in 2006 (probably done to get money from Gazafi and later shelved so no one can read it), there are many similarities between the two dictators. Paranoia, equating the country with one’s self, denial of the truth, blaming others, presenting their regimes as the best in the world, refusing to be ruled by a constitution or to be elected and brutality against their opponents, are some of their shared characteristics. During the current crisis, the Libyan dictator said, “All my people love me, there were no demonstrations against me,” and ours says regularly that there is no opposition in Eritrea, and there are no political prisoners. Both have been in power for too long, Gazafi since 1969 and Isaias since 1970.
Isaias has been the indisputable leader since he split from the ELF, first for Selfi Netzanet and later for the EPLF until independence. Since 1991 he runs the country as a president, though unelected. Both are feared. Gazafi is referred to as the ‘leader’ and Isiaias as Nsu ‘he’ or ‘the man’. Both keep journalists waiting for many hours. Isaias with the farmer, ‘kebessa’ mentality, is however, more shrewd and careful in expressing his grandness than the outspoken Gazafi, the ‘nomad’ who speaks his mind. The Libyan dictator feels he has created modern Libya and ours believes he has created the State of Eritrea. When he leaves, Gazafi will be missed for his fancy dresses, his large entourage of female bodyguards, his lengthy speeches and bizarre behavior. I can not imagine that there would be anything that one misses Isaias for.
We do not know yet how and when the Libyan regime will fall and how much time it will buy by using excessive force, and its financial resources, but one thing is very clear: Qazafi & family regime in Libya has lost its moral legitimacy and will not be able to rule the Libyans for too long. The ‘zenga’ speech of the leader has become a mockery in the Internet. A democratic Libya will be in the interest of all peace loving people in the world. The fall of the Libyan regime will not only end the suffering of the Libyan people, but also deprive the dictatorial regime in Eritrea of one of its closest allies in the world, thus bringing its end much closer.