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One year after Gadhafi

Vera Kern / jlw
October 19, 2012

For 40 years Moammar Gadhafi helped to shape the economic and political life of Africa. He brought investment to the continent - and political intrigue. What has happened to Africa in his absence?

a billboard with Libyan president Muammar Khadafi (Photo: CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: AFP/Getty Images

He called himself "brother leader," sometimes "king of kings" - Moammar Gadhafi had many faces. In the west, he was the dictator from the desert, ruthless and eccentric. But what image of Gadhafi perists in Africa one year after his death?

In the Ugandan capital, Kampala, there is a Gadhafi mosque, which leads to Gadhafi street. "Gadhafi was a very good friend to Uganda over the years ," says Fred Opolot, Uganda's government spokesperson. A key figure in the Ugandan independence movement, Gadhafi holds a permanent place in the country's history.

Bought friends

Paying for his friendship with Uganda, Gadhafi invested $375 million (286 million euros) in that African nation. The money came from Libya's oil revenues and found its way into the Ugandan telephone system and the Tropical Bank, among other places.

Gadhafi was a welcome financer of the African economy. Libyan investments were scattered across the continent and ranged from luxury hotels from Kenya to Ghana, to rubber factories in Liberia, fruit juice plants in Guinea, and telephone companies and motor vehicle service stations throughout East Africa.

During the war in Libya, African countries abided by a United Nations resolution freezing the country's foreign assets and the holdings of Gadhafi and his relatives. Today, those sanctions have been lifted. The Libyan Investment Authority still exists and there is, apparently, still some surviving capital from before the war. But the Libyan government does not know much money is involved, nor where it has been desposited.

No more oil millionaires from Libya

Libyan investment in Africa is now a thing of the past, according to West African analyst Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, founder of the New York consulstancy firm Damina. "There is almost no new investments coming from Libya into Africa," he told DW in an interview. Libya is broke, the oil industry has virtually collapsed and the security situation there is extremely poor.

For many African countries, says Spio-Garbrah, Gadhafi's death was a loss in econoimc terms. It is unclear what is going to happen to all the companies, hotels and plantations. Many African leaders are wary of the new Libyan government. "Even though if they may have granted it diplomatic recognition, many of them have yet to transfer any Gadhafi-era assets to the new administration."

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (L) speaks with Moamer Gadhafi (Photo: MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Uganda and Gadhafi – a special relationshipImage: AFP/Getty Images

Some African nations have benefited from the chaos in Libya. When sanctions were in place, the control over deals with Libya was in African hands and they are not prepared to relinquish it. This is bad news for the new Libyan government. It is preoccupied with its own affairs and does not have the resources to recover missing foreign investments.

Re-organization of the African Union

Gadhafi was a supportive brother who believed in Africa? What became of his political ideas, his pan-African visions? Strange as it may seem now, the African Union owes its existence to one of Gadhafi's initiatives.

The AU building in Addis Ababa. (Photo: Carola Frentzen/dpa)
The AU – a Gadhafi initative. His vision of a United States of Africa is off the table for nowImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Grand schemes such as a "United States of Africa" are no longer on the agenda, says Ulf Engel, professor of African Studies at the University of Leipzig. Many African presidents thought Gadhafi's thirst for power went too far. "The majority of African Union member states felt there were coerced by Gadhafi," says Engel. The question of how much influence individual nations states should concede to some overarching authority caused much disagreement.

Financial gap without Gadahfi

It was Gadhafi who set the agenda, but he had the money. Libya contributed 15 percent of the budget, Gadhafi also paid the membership contributions of cash-strapped states - buying votes and securing political allies. According to Ulf Engel this is a common practice across the AU. Without Libyan funding, the AU now has financial problems.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma addresses the media (Photo: REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri)
South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the new head of the AU CommissionImage: Reuters

Nevertheless, the African Union is a more effective organization without Gadhafi's claim on leadership. During talks with AU officials, Engel has observed that the situation is now less tense. "The AU no longer feels the need to worry about headline grabbing schemes that cannot be implemented in the immediate future, the focus is now integrating existing institutions into the AU more efficiently."

One year after Gadhafi's demise, new players have taken the spotlight. South Africa, with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma heading the AU Commission, can now be expected to speak with greater authority on the political front. New investors have already arrived. The new headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, which cost $200 million, was a gift from China.

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