Libyan Ventures in Sub-Saharan Africa
Qadhafi's approach to sub-Saharan Africa revolved around several
basic concerns: the attempt to increase Libyan influence in Muslim
or partly Muslim states, promotion of Islamic unity, and support,
often uncritical, for African liberation movements. One of Qadhafi's
frequently stated goals was the creation of a Saharan Islamic
state, but critics accused him of being more interested in empire
than in fostering and promoting Islam. The aforementioned objectives
governed his relations with African states, and nowhere more so
than in neighboring Chad and Sudan.
Libya had been deeply involved in Chad since the early 1970s.
Reasons for this involvement included tribal and religious affinities
between northern Chad and southern Libya and a contested common
border dating back to the colonial period. In 1973 Libya occupied
the Aouzou Strip. The territory, which allegedly contains significant
deposits of uranium and other minerals, gave the Libyans a solid
foothold in Chad. From his Aouzou Strip base Qadhafi also gave
moral and material aid to northern dissidents in the prolonged
Chadian civil war. In the late 1970s, these dissidents were led
Goukouni Oueddei, the leader of the Tebu (see Peoples of Libya
, ch. 2).
After failure in the 1970s of mediation efforts in which Libya
was deeply involved, Qadhafi provided equipment and troops to
Goukouni that enabled him to capture N'Djamena, Chad's capital,
in December 1980. In January the two leaders called for a merger
of their countries, but the outcry among a number of West African
states and from France, the former Chadian colonial power, was
so great that the proposal was dropped. Even within Goukouni's
own forces, there was considerable opposition to Libya's presence
and tactics. Under persistent international pressure, Libya's
estimated 10,000 to 15,000 troops withdrew to the Aouzou Strip
in November 1981. Opposition forces under Hissein Habré subsequently
drove Goukouni back north, leaving Habré in control of N'Djamena,
from which he pressed unsuccessfully for Libya's withdrawal from
During the 1970s, relations between Libya and Sudan went from
bad to worse. At the beginning of the decade, Qadhafi aided Sudanese
President Jaafar an Numayri against leftist plotters. But by the
mid-1970s, relations had turned hostile after Numayri accused
Libya of subversion and of responsibility for several coup attempts.
Thereafter, Sudan belonged to the camp of Qadhafi's sworn opponents.
In 1980 Numayri condemned the Libyan invasion of Chad, being especially
fearful of Libyan meddling in Sudan's troubled border province
of Darfur. In early 1981, Numayri called for Libya's expulsion
from the Arab League and for a joint effort to overthrow or kill
Qadhafi. A few months later, he ordered Libyan diplomats to leave
Khartoum in the wake of a bombing of the Chadian embassy linked
to Libyan instigation.
Libyan intervention in Uganda in the 1970s constituted a special
case. There Qadhafi was interested less in unity than in bolstering
a friendly Islamic regime against both internal and external opposition.
Beginning in 1972, Qadhafi gave financial and military backing
to Idi Amin Dada in return for Amin's disavowal of Uganda's previously
close relationship with Israel. Thereafter, Qadhafi continued
to back Amin, despite the wide condemnation of Amin's brutal rule.
In late 1978 and early 1979, when combined Tanzanian-Ugandan forces
drove Amin from power, Qadhafi unsuccessfully airlifted troops
and supplies in Amin's defense, and he granted the Ugandan leader
temporary asylum in Tripoli.
Data as of 1987