Obama-Biden legacy in Africa: myths and reality


The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Barack Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people”

Reality: Libya

In March 2011 the US, together with France and the UK, attacked Libya. There was no justification for this attack: Libya did not pose any threat to its neighbors and had renounced and dismantled its development of nuclear weapons long ago [1]. The pretext used by the Obama administration to launch the attack on Libya was humanitarian:  minimize civilian casualties and defend the human rights of the Libyan people. Reports by the UN and several human rights organizations indicate that the number of people killed in this civil war, before the US intervention, ranged from several hundreds to one thousand, and this included government forces, rebels and noncombatants [2].

Till 2011 Libya enjoyed a strong economy based on its rich oil fields. Libya hosted on its territory 2.5 million migrants, coming mostly from Africa, but also from countries as far as Bangladesh and the Philippines. They migrated to Libya to get jobs: Libya was traditionally a destination country. Furthermore, Gaddafi’s strategy had been to use the revenues from the oil industry to invest heavily in sub-Saharan Africa in infrastructure and transportation industries.

The attack left Libya in ruins and opened the gates for hundreds of thousands of desperate people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Just in four years (2014-2017), 600,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy [3], many drowning in their attempt to reach Europe.

Reality: Mali

When Gaddafi was overthrown Libya’s investments in Mali ceased and the mass return of Malians who fled Libya exacerbated its economic problems: their lost jobs meant an estimated loss of 6 million dollars in annual remittances to their families [4].

The dismantling of the Libya’s government and institutions also opened the path for a large influx of arms through Libya to the neighboring Sahel-region African countries: The flow of weapons from Libyan dictator Gaddafi’s stockpiles after his fall played a major role in the Tuareg and Islamist insurgences in Mali in 2012 that led to the toppling of its democratically elected government [5, 6]. Furthermore: The armed conflict that started in the North of Mali in January 2012 caused a migration crisis: Nearly half a million people [in Mali] were displaced as of the end of April 2013, including 300,000 internally displaced persons and 185,000 displaced into neighboring countries, including 176,000 refugees [4].

This is the legacy of the Obama-Biden administration in Africa: Libya and Mali today are the two most intractable problems in Africa. The countries are in ruin and in constant internal war.

 [1] Jaime Kardontchik, “US should have stayed out of Libya”, The San Jose Mercury News, March 25, 2011

[2] Alan Kuperman, “A model humanitarian intervention? Reassessing NATO’s Libya campaign”, International Security Journal, vol 38 No 1, MIT Press, 2013

[3] European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR), “Migration through the Mediterranean: Mapping the EU response”, June 2018

[4] International Organization for Migration (IOM), “Mali crisis: a migration perspective”, June 2013

[5] Stewart M. Patrick and Isabella Bennett, “Collateral damage: How Libyan weapons fueled Mali’s violence”, published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), January 29, 2013

[6] “Investigating cross-border weapon transfers in the Sahel”, report published by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), November 2016

About the Author
Jaime Kardontchik has a PhD in Physics from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He lives in the Silicon Valley, California.
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