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War in Libya: What are the risks for the Sahel region?

April 11, 2011

By Fiorenzo Conte

A previous post argued that by intervening in Libya the international community ( or better the NATO countries) showed their willingness to sacrifice the political stability and the peace of a country to pursue the defense of human rights of civilians. However, as the Libyan rebels fail to topple Kaddafi and the war continues, the risks associated to a pro-human rights military intervention are emerging.  Countries of the Sahel regions are now in fact warning that a protracted civil war in Libya and the resulting unchecked proliferation of weapons could have calamitous consequences on the stability of the region. De Waal explains how that could happen:

“Reporters on the coast have spoken about African mercenaries serving in the pro-Gaddafi forces, mentioning countries of origin such as Chad, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania. There are also rumours that Darfurians, including members of rebel factions based in Libya, are fighting in Libya. The deal is reportedly simple: take whatever arms you can handle, and fight for me, and then those weapons and vehicles are yours for whatever use you see fit.

Mercenaries, freebooters, and rebels from across the Sahel and even beyond are heading for Libya to take advantage of this open-entry, take-all-you-can arms bonanza.”

The risk however would not come only from one side. In fact, Jeune Afrique reports that the Libyan insurgents captured some of the Kaddafi’s regime weapons and they are handing them over to the Al-Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQOIM). After having received the weapons,  Al-Qaida has, according to some sources, steadily increased its financial support to the rebels. As a result of such unchecked pillage, AQOIM is feared by many to become one of the best equipped army in the region.

To sum up: NATO countries intervened in Libya to protect the human rights of civilians. However, as the external military intervention is spurring a protracted civil war, the unchecked proliferation of weapons is troubling the region. One of the consequences could be the start of other conflicts in neighboring countries. And we all know that these conflicts are not going to be beneficial for the human rights of civilians.


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