North Africa's Powder Keg


BERLIN/TRIPOLI (Own report) - In the prelude to an EU "mission" to Libya, German government advisors are insisting on stronger German engagement in that country. The country is socially highly fractured and "instable," according to a recent study published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Many militias are still in tact, with no central command structure, and with some waging fierce battles against others. These conditions are not in Germany's economic and security policy interests. In fact, not only are there anti-western Islamist militias operating on Libyan territory, who have extended their range of activities to Northern Mali and Algeria, constituting a long term threat to western hegemony over the area. The country has, at the same time, resumed being Germany's largest non-European oil supplier, and thereby, taken on a prominent significance in Germany's energy policy. The BASF subsidiary Wintershall, with headquarters in Kassel, produces a major portion of its oil in Libya, and is interested in taking over RWE Dea, also active in Libya. Battles between rival militias caused an interruption of Wintershall's production already last year.

Socially Fractured

A recent analysis by Berlin's Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) focuses on the highly fractured Libyan society in the aftermath of the 2011 war, in which the German government had supported the Libyan rebels against Gadhafi, after being defeated in the UN Security Council voting.[1] According to the SWP paper, the impression spread in western media that the July 2012 Libyan elections had been won by liberal forces, is "misleading."[2] A closer look at the situation, shows that there are hardly any western-style nation-state oriented liberal forces in the country. "The real winners of the elections" had been those "representing the interests of individual families, cities or tribes" - a clear indication of the disintegration of the political structure. It should be added, explains the paper further that acrimonious battles continue to rage between the 2011 rebels and Gadhafi's supporters. The break down in social cohesion can today also be seen in not only the "institutional chaos," but also in the fact that throughout the country a multitude of militias continues to exist. Even though they are formally integrated into units of the interior or defense ministries, they have maintained their autonomy and repeatedly fight one another. The Libyan social situation is "highly instable."

Oil Supplier

Libyan "instability" collides with German interests. This North African country had not only been significant to Berlin as an ally in warding off African migrants, but also because of its immense oil reserves. Following a brief interruption, during the war in 2011, Libya has regained its position as Germany's most important non-European oil supplier. The BASF subsidiary, Wintershall - which produces a significant share of its oil production in Libya - is particularly affected by Libya's political "instability." According to its own admission, the company owes its 2012 sales record of 16.7 billion Euros to its Libyan activities, which has again reached an output of 85,000 barrels per day, nearly as high as its prewar 100,000 bpd level. At times, even Wintershall has been affected by ongoing Libyan conflicts. For example, in the summer of 2012, the Zway tribe militia prohibited oil production at one of Wintershall's oil fields, to stress the seriousness of their demands to the government regarding a rival ethnic group.[3]

Growing Business

German industry views actions, such as these, as all the more menacing because Wintershall has recently expressed interest in taking over the RWE Dea, a subsidiary, RWE seeks to sell. RWE Dea has also been active in Libya since 2003. Therefore, a takeover would further reinforce Wintershall's standing in Libya. However, it would, at the same time, also render the company more vulnerable to new uprisings. The same holds true for any expansion of the company's activities in the country - a theme of talks its director, Reiner Seele, has been holding with top officials in Tripoli in 2013. The Libyan government wants to greatly expand its oil and gas production - enormous desert regions have yet to be prospected, according to reports.[4]

Stronghold for Islamist Militias

For quite a while, observers have been warning that, beyond concrete German interests in Libya, the country has been developing into a stronghold of anti-western, Islamist militias targeting all of North Africa. Already back in 2011, according to reports, Islamist militias, seen as belonging to al Qaeda, have, in fact, been using the collapse of Libyan state institutions and been transferring weapons from Libyan arsenals to strongholds in Northern Mali. This was again done the following year, when Northern Mali came under the control of Islamist militias. The attack on the Algerian Amenas gas field in January 2013, and the hostage taking that ensued, had also been staged from their Libyan strongholds. In March, the pan-African magazine, Jeune Afrique, carried the article entitled, "The Libyan Powder Keg," explaining that "entire regions are out of control," that weapons are being publicly and in large quantities hawked and Islamist militias can freely act in the open. Libya's "neighbors have never been so afraid."[5] The new SWP study frankly admits that "radical Islamist brigades are increasingly able to organize at a supra-regional level."[6]

Fortify Desert Borders

To prohibit further militia attacks from Libyan strongholds on neighboring countries and, at the same time, further limit African migration to Europe, the EU initiated measures along Libya's international borders, last year. After delegating an "expert mission" to this North African country in early March 2012, and evaluating its findings, the European Council has approved a concept for an EU "mission" to Libya on January 31, 2013. The "mission's" purpose will be to train Libyan border officials and enable land, sea and aerial operations. Included in these measures are those against the "migration flow," explicitly stated in the concept.[7] The first border control measures were initiated at the Tripoli Airport, in early March. The EU's "mission" is scheduled to be fully functional in June. The mission is set to run for two years. The Libyan Foreign Minister reaffirmed in mid February that his government seeks to fortify Libya's territorial borders with state of the art technology. Cassidian, the arms subsidiary of the German-French EADS Corp., as well as other companies in the branch had already expressed their interests last year. Cassidian has a large amount of experience from its Saudi Arabian contract - thanks, in part, to German government support measures. ( reported.[8])

Focus: Repression

According to the SWP paper, considering its desolate development of this North African country, Germany must absolutely become involved. Contact to Libya could generally be broadened, for example, via party-affiliated foundations or cultural and academic exchanges. Berlin could promote the "development of a new administrative system" to prevent a complete disintegration of state structures. "In light of the acute conflicts inside the country, (...) support for the development of the security sector should be a focus of bilateral and European cooperation with Libya."[9] As the SWP study concludes, the current "instability" in Libya "is reflected in organizational opportunities for regional extremist networks," which are detrimental also to German interests and must be combated. But this is worthwhile. Libya, "through stabilization," could "regain its importance for the European energy security" and moreover "develop into a much more attractive market for German companies, than it had been in the past." The SWP considers that "both the risks of long-term destabilization, as well as the opportunities, opened by a consolidated Libya," would be "reason" for comprehensive German activities in this North African country.

Other reports and background information on Germany's policy toward Libya can be found here: More Important than Human Rights and Action Plan - Libya.

[1] see also Action Plan - Libya and Eine Atmosphäre der Straflosigkeit
[2] Wolfram Lacher: Bruchlinien der Revolution. Akteure, Lager und Konflikte im neuen Libyen, SWP-Studie S 5, März 2013
[3] Zway tribesmen "cut" oil production; 04.07.2012
[4] Wirtschaftstrends Libyen Jahreswechsel 2012/13;
[5] La poudrière libyenne; Jeune Afrique 2721, 03.03.2013
[6] Wolfram Lacher: Bruchlinien der Revolution. Akteure, Lager und Konflikte im neuen Libyen, SWP-Studie S 5, März 2013
[7] EU prepares support to border management in Libya; 31.01.2013
[8] see also Stabile Verhältnisse
[9] Wolfram Lacher: Bruchlinien der Revolution. Akteure, Lager und Konflikte im neuen Libyen, SWP-Studie S 5, März 2013