afrol News, 29 March - Both the European Union (EU) and the US have issued humiliating apologies to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, thus normalising ties and securing further investments in Libya's vast oil sector. Meanwhile, African leaders are still shocked by Mr Gaddafi's proposals to split Nigeria.
The diplomatic row between Libya and Western states - ignited by the imprisonment of Mr Gadaffi's son in Switzerland and a later Swiss blacklisting of Libyan officials in the EU's common travel visa system - was threatening to undermine years of painfully achieved normal ties with Libya. Even the US was getting dragged into the crisis after an official had criticised Mr Gaddafi's call for "jihad against Switzerland".
Two weeks ago, the US State Department was the first to take the humiliating step to apologise to the Libyan leader. US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said he regretted his comments on Libya's jihad against Switzerland, adding they were not the official view of the US.
The Libyan mission to the UN in a statement said it had "accepted" the apology by the US State Department. Libya would rescind the ban on visits by US officials that had been implemented after Mr Crowley's comments. US-Libyan ties thus were normalised.
For some weeks, therefore, European countries had a severe disadvantage in securing investments in neighbouring Libya. As a result of Switzerland's travel ban on Libyan officials - a ban that through the Schengen agreement automatically included travel to most of Europe - Libya had recalled all visas given to Europeans within the Schengen area. Investors, businessmen and tourists from Europe in practical terms were banned from entering Libya.
Europeans could not live with a situation where Americans got access to all the billion-worth investments in its backyard. So it was time to finish the EU-Libyan crisis.
The current leader of the rotating EU presidency, Spain's Prime Minister José Luís Zapatero, was the right man to make it happen. The Chamberlain-inspired leader, always looking to create "an alliance of civilisations, had no second thoughts when it comes to accept a humiliation if it can repair strained diplomatic ties.
On Saturday, the "Spanish presidency of the European Union" thus issued a statement, saying "all the names of Libyan citizens in the list of the Schengen information system have been deleted," adding the EU had never been involved in blacklisting the Libyans.
"We apologise and deplore what has happened and the hardships this has caused to Libyan citizens," the Spanish statement says, adding "we expect this will not be repeated in future." Between the lines, the statement thus tells Switzerland not to jeopardise EU relations with Libya again.
With this total retreat and humiliation, Libyan leader Gaddafi was quick to normalise ties with the EU during meetings with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos in Sirte, Mr Gaddafi's home town. Minister Moratinos thus today could issue another statement, "congratulating" that European citizens again "can enter Libya without any restrictions."
Meanwhile, in Africa, Mr Gaddafi is being slammed for his proposal to split Nigeria into two states according to religious lines. Nigerian leaders have called Mr Gaddafi a "mad man" and outright "evil", asking him to keep off African affairs. Nigeria recalled its ambassador in Tripoli as a demonstration of outrage.
Also outside Nigeria, the proposal has
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (l.) with Spain's Foreign Minister (m.) and Prime Minister José Luís Zapatero (r.)
achieved major media headlines and caused very negative reactions. Mr Gaddafi until recently led the rotating presidency of the African Union (AU), and he should have known that the AU sees colonial frontiers in Africa as sacrosanct and as the only vaccine against an endless series of secessionist wars all over Africa.
The discussion about Mr Gaddafi's split-Nigeria proposal is still ongoing all over Africa. And the reactions mainly agree that Africa should stop listening to the "mad man" from Libya. The loss of reputation experienced by the Libyan leader in Africa will be a major setback for years.
But the Libyan leader has the mouth where the money is. He loves giant projects and rewards cordial ties with the possibilities of almost unlimited investment and profit possibilities. Currently, the Chinese and Russians are involved in billion dollar railway projects, while US and EU companies have been given billion dollar investment opportunities in the oil and gas industry.
This is also the case for Africa. Mr Gaddafi is fond of giant African infrastructure projects - especially if they link Libya with other countries - and can be talked into investing large sums if given honourable positions such as the AU presidency or being received like a major leader.
Since the mid-1990s, Africa has been a major foreign policy pillar in Tripoli. Colonel Gaddafi has invested large sums in gaining African allies. With the establishment in 1998 of the Tripoli-based Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), an estimated US$ 300-400 million have been channelled from Libya to friendly African countries.
Also, the Libyan leader has a strong political position in Africa, being engaged in several wars and peace processes. While previously occupying northern Chad, funding rebels in Sierra Leone and Liberia and being engaged in West Africa's illicit blood diamond trade, Libya is now marketing itself as a necessary peace mediator.
Tripoli was able to play a key role in preventing a full-scale war between Chad and Sudan a few years ago. Libya, having ties to both governments and armed rebels, has plaid an important role in negotiating more or less stable peace agreements within Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic.
But analysts hold that Libya's high star on the African continent is becoming bleaker. "Gaddafi's efforts in Chad have only partially helped him to improve his image internationally and have, in fact, reinforced the view that Libyan foreign policy remains contradictory," according to a new analysis by the Brussels think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG).
"Libya's diplomatic successes in Chad have been short-lived, due to a lack of focus on longer-term reforms and its difficulty in tolerating the contributions of other regional or wider international players in its quest to dominate its neighbourhood," according to the ICG analysis.
Together with the Libyan leader's split-Nigeria affair, the lessening influence in the Sahel region may ease other African leaders' desire to distance themselves from the "mad man" initiatives of Mr Gaddafi. Unless the Libyan leader again opens his check-book, of course.
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