A group of 500 Ghanaians who managed to arrive home from the fighting in Libya told harrying stories of how difficult life had been for them. Many TV stations and reputable news organisations have also confirmed that racists in Libya are making life very dangerous for black migrants who have not been able to leave Libya.
The reason is that the anti-Gaddafi forces spread a lot of rumours that Gaddafi had imported ‘mercenaries’ from Chad, Niger and even farther afield, to bolster the strength of his fighting machine. As with all rumours, those who spread them were the first to believe them. And so they meted out brutality to any black person they see.
Chancing upon a group of Blacks in a Libyan jail, a news crew from British television broadcaster Channel 4 bravely refused to leave them with their captors, until the crew had interrogated the jailers about the alleged proof they had that the men were mercenaries. They tried very hard to get the jailers to make clear their intentions. I salute the Channel 4 crew, for I am sure they saved the lives of the hapless prisoners. But, of course, they cannot go everywhere in search of black prisoners to save, which means that blacks in Libya continue to be at risk of their lives.
The documented stories of brutality against blacks make it imperative for NATO leaders to intervene urgently to impress upon Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) that the suppression of racist hysteria against blacks must count as one of the Council’s topmost priorities. Of course, it is understandable that that the NTC should be pre-occupied with consolidating its administration. But what the NATO leaders must emphasise to the Council is that any blacks killed by racist Libyans whilst the Council is looking after its own business, cannot be brought back to life.
Now, if the NTC and its allies do not do something extraordinary to save the innocent black migrants, they will do permanent damage to Libyan diplomacy in Africa. NATO will also be made to look extremely foolish in Africa. It claimed to have gone to Libya to protect civilians from certain slaughter by Gaddafi. Now, those it saved from Gaddafi are themselves being accused of carrying out massacres against innocent blacks, many of whom only went to Libya in search of work.
NATO leaders should remember that South Africa voted with the West when votes were needed to give legality to the NATO bombing of Libya, through the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Already, South Africa may be regretting that it gave the NATO resolution any support at all. For South Africa and many other African Union (AU) members have been dragging their feet about recognising the NTC.
The Nigerian and Ghanaian governments, which have recognised the NTC, have come under intense criticism for jumping the gun. This is because many people think that they could have used the diplomatic weapon of recognition as a tool of exchange, to obtain cast-iron guarantees that the threatened blacks would be protected by the NTC, and helped to go back home.
Sadly, it is evident that although those currently in power in Libya might not want to accept the fact, the reality of the black migrants’ position under the Gaddafi regime is that it was by no means as rosy as many Libyans thought. Black Africans did not exactly enjoy a life of ‘luxury’ but were often forced to carry out menial work that Libyans did not want to do themselves.
Libyans could see for themselves, these people labouring on building sites, sweeping the streets or working in the homes of well-to-do Libyans. Indeed, many blacks only went to Libya to use the country as a staging post to try and get into Europe. But this often turned out to be an illusion, because some were imprisoned for entering Libya illegally, while even those who succeeded in leaving Libya often perished at sea in unsafe boats on which unscrupulous Libyan smugglers were trying to get them into Italy or elsewhere on the European side of the Mediterranean.
Life in Italy for those who did not drown in the sea, turned out to be equally hazardous, as the inhumane treatment of the migrants by the Italian police attracted worldwide notoriety for its callousness. Humanitarian organisations generally regard the Italian treatment of the migrants as one of the worst scandals in Italian politics.
More irony: It was Colonel Gaddafi himself – the man the blacks are supposed to be fighting for – who laid the groundwork for anti-black prejudice in Libya when, in January 2008, his government announced plans to deport black migrants en masse. This was a manifestation of the colonel’s inability to see reality, for at the same time, he was trying to get himself recognised as Africa’s ‘king of kings’. It took Human Rights Watch to point out to him that the mooted mass deportations were ‘illegal’ under Libya’s own laws.
Libya’s deportation of black Africans in earlier years (6,027 Ghanaians were deported in 2004 alone) testifies to the fact that anti-black prejudice has been a long-lasting problem with which all the Libyan people have had to grapple. In March 2010, Gaddafi caused immense anger in Nigeria by suggesting that the country should be divided into two – a Christian south and a Muslim north – ‘to save it from religious strife.’
Among Nigerian politicians who took umbrage at Gaddafi’s remark was the then president of the Nigerian Senate, Mr David Mark. He described Gaddafi in just one word: ‘mad’! Then, an official statement was released by the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which stated that the country’s ambassador to Tripoli had been recalled for ‘urgent consultations’ because of the ‘irresponsible utterances of Colonel Gaddafi’.
The statement added – in a markedly undiplomatic tone – ‘Gaddafi’s theatrics and grandstanding at every auspicious occasion have become too numerous to recount.’ It says much for the sense of reality that exists within the AU that at the time Gaddafi made his insensitive remark about a respected member state, Gaddafi had been basking for some time, in the glory – such as it is – of being the chair of the AU.
Apart from the hackles he sometimes raises at the official level in other African countries, Gaddafi also seems not to care too much about African public opinion. On 17 December 2004, for instance, the Ghana Daily Graphic gave prominence to the deportation of 132 Ghanaians from Libya and recalled that altogether, a total of 6,027 Ghanaians had been ‘precipitately deported from Libya’ by then. Yet the deportations continued.
The Daily Graphic reported further that many of the deportees ‘were flown down on cargo planes without any seats…The deportees had been coming in on regular intervals of between two weeks and one month…Some of the deportees alleged that the conditions at the camp [in Libya where they were detained before being deported] had been dehumanising, since there were no sleeping places. “There were only canopies stretched across a vast area of land and we were not fed regularly. We had to stay without water for over a day or two,” the deportees said, adding that there was overcrowding at the camp.’
Over in Nigeria, too, the media had a bone to pick with Gaddafi over how Libya treated Nigerian citizens on its soil. An article in the influential Lagos Guardian, on 13 February 2009, said:
‘One wonders about this sudden enthusiasm [for a United States of Africa] which has overtaken Gaddafi, given the fact that his government has been involved in brutality against Africans from other countries who found themselves legally or illegally in Libya.
‘A lot of Nigerians and other Africans in search of greener pastures have been brutalised, dehumanised and tortured; some killed while the lucky ones got deported. If Gaddafi had shown some iota of mercy to these Africans who sneaked into Libya, maybe we would not have read [too] much [hidden] meaning into this idea being touted by him.’
Ghana and Nigeria are two countries which have contributed a lot, historically, to the idea of ‘African unity’, and that Gaddafi can allow his officials to maltreat the citizens of the two countries in the way described by two of the leading papers in the two countries, explains the reason why protests against NATO’s bombing of Libya have been muted in the rest of Africa. NATO must enlighten its friends who are in power in Tripoli to appreciate that the NTC needs diplomatic support at the UN, if it is to gain full acceptance in the world. (In fact, since the two countries recognised the NTC, sections of their intelligentsia have been berating them for selling out Black Africa.)
One needs to ask: Is it not shameful that after touting ‘African unity’ since 1963 (when the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed) Africans still have to seek NATO’S protection, because Arabs are killing Africans? And on the basis of skin colour at that? How can the NTC leaders hold their heads high when they go to the next African Union (AU) summit to hug other African leaders, pretending to exude warm friendship towards Africans, when their hands are stained with the blood of blacks picked off in cold-blooded murder in the streets of Tripoli?