The Malta Independent 24 September 2018, Monday

Things down south

Charles Flores Monday, 10 September 2018, 11:40 Last update: about 13 days ago

A saying from ancient Greece gave a pretty early warning to peoples around the Mediterranean – “something new always comes from Libya”. As things stand, down south from us at this moment in time, the saying has certainly retained its relevance, which is why both Malta and Italy have been showing the most concern within the region.

Unbeknown to Matteo Salvini, the acid-lipped Minister for the Interior, Italy is actually the last piece of truly European territory nearest to North Africa (the tiny “Spanish” city of Ceuta oddly sits on the Moroccan coast), courtesy of the beautiful island of Lampedusa. Perhaps we should consider making a serious financial bid for both Lampedusa and Pantelleria to help enlarge the Maltese archipelago?

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Seriously, though, the Libyan situation is again critical. It is so thanks to ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Italian Prime Minister and fellow ideologue Silvio Berlusconi. Both of them had taken a lead from obvious American instigation under the NATO and UN mantle, in getting rid of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in what has always been described as an incredulous attempt at “taking the Western democracy model to Libya.” Had not democracy already been delivered on a silver platter, after all, to places like Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria?

Like many Maltese, Italians, French, Brits and even several lone-wolf Americans, I did earn some good money – by that time’s standards, I hasten to add – during the Jamahiriya days in Libya. Not that any one of us believed the Gaddafi regime was anything other than a ruthless dictatorship, but there was relative peace in the land. People had money to burn, which they did on numerous propaganda books, newspapers and other costly media projects, and the needy were well and truly taken care of with the provision of vast housing projects, assistance even in buying a car, and almost free supplies of petrol and diesel. From the individual’s point of view, compare that to the current chaos.

If we Europeans were happy with things as they stood in Libya as long as one could trade and put one’s talents to good use there, Americans also thrived happily in dictatorial Saudi Arabia, Argentina under the Colonels, Chile under the vicious Pinochet and other little-dictator hotspots around the globe. Not exactly the perfect scenario for the idealist, but politically idyllic in terms of opportunities in a practical and realistic world.

There was never any doubt that once the strongman’s hold was lost and any semblance of unity faded away, Libya was to go quickly back to its tribal roots. Even while people rejoiced at seeing the Gaddafi regime crumbling after more than 42 years of relative stability and watching the sad and gruesome spectacle of the man’s savage end just outside the city of Sirte at the hands of pro-West rebels, there was no doubt whatsoever this would happen. Now that it is a fait accompli, you have present-day governments, descendants in many ways of the dummy-bullet mentality of the Sarkozys and Berlusconis, caught in a quandary as to what to do about it. The media speculates and the politicians watch on helplessly. The United Nations tiptoes into the whole scene sprouting well-worn clichés and reassurances that have proved futile so many times there and elsewhere before.

Some people have expressed fears that the 400 prisoners who escaped from a Tripoli prison, all of them allegedly ex-Gaddafi sympathisers, may prefer to cross over to Malta, where they already have contacts and the present Libyan regimes (it has to be in the plural) cannot get at them so easily. In truth, this is not only a far-fetched piece of fantasy but also impossible given the nature of their predicament. The worst fiction is the story, in a UK tabloid rag, of 3,000 Al Qaeda militants waiting for kind-hearted Western NGOs to have them transported to the island. Not that Malta should not be on the lookout for any such solitary occurrence, however remote; our only concern should be on the remoter possibility of ever witnessing the emergence of a strong and fair deal among Libyans for Libyans in Libya.

Do not lose any sleep, though. It will take a long time coming, if ever. Libya’s vast oil resources are an attraction from both an internal perspective as well as an external one, particularly in light of the problem of US sanction-hit Iranian oil deliveries to the rest of the world. European oil companies have already succumbed to American pressure and taken the route out of Teheran despite EU assurances that it will not play ball, and Trump’s joystick politics may well extend to our already beleaguered region.

Libyan tribal infighting can hardly be expected to cease any day soon, but there may be stronger undercurrents to the issue than one can imagine at present.

 

History in reverse mode?

A lot of people and governments have expressed apprehension over the controversial land-confiscation policy by the government in South Africa. The law, which still needs to be passed, would allow South African authorities to seize lands from white farmers and redistribute them to the country’s black population without any compensation for the owners.

The issue has of course re-ignited the racial conflict between radical groups among black South Africans ready to take land even by force against white farmers who say they are ready to protect their property. More than two decades since the end of apartheid, much of the farmland in South Africa is still owned by the country’s white minority.

Could this be history in reverse mode? How did the white minority obtain the land it farms in the first place? Not a single Western media or government outlet has pointed out that it was acquired by brute force. Today’s world problems still emanate mostly from the era of colonisation and the creation of empires on the backs of enslaved populations. The South African proposition is not retribution, but delayed justice.

 

Populist orgy

According to leaked reports in Brussels, this week’s State of the Union speech by EU President Jean-Claude Juncker will feature “a migration-heavy feast”. The oration is also expected to include plans to strengthen the European border and coast guard and the European Union’s asylum agency, as well as accelerate the return of rejected asylum seekers.

The Brussels revelations, which came out following a working dinner for EU ambassadors at the Berlaymont, also refer to an “Africa package” aimed at providing new and stronger partnerships with African countries.

To all this, expect an orgy by the populist parties now raging in Europe, much earlier than the anticipated orgy of the 2019 EP elections.

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