The Gaddafi Effect: Why Libya Can’t Host The Africa Cup Of Nations

The Gaddafi Effect: Why Libya Can’t Host The Africa Cup Of Nations

On Friday August 22 representatives of the Libyan sporting community, including the country’s Minister of Youth and Sports and the Libyan Football Federation’s President went to Egypt to meet with Confederation of African Football (“CAF”) President Issa Hayatou.

The delegation met with Hayatou to inform him that, due to the country’s crisis of governance and instability, it would be unable to host the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, a biannual tournament to determine the best soccer club on the African continent.

While Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana have already announced bids to host the 2017 event, this step, officially due to Libya’s “unstable security situation,” demonstrates just how far the country has fallen since the ebullience that immediately followed longtime strongman Moammar Gaddafi’s ouster.

In October of 2011 Libyans took to the streets en masse to celebrate the capture and killing of Gaddafi, an eccentric and brutal dictator that had run the North African state through tyranny, fear and oil revenue for more than four decades.

On Monday, Reuters reported that the country now has fallen so far into chaos that fighting for power by rival factions had left the country’s main airport decimated.

What happened in less than three years that took the country from collective happiness and celebration in the street to a security situation unfit to host the continent’s most prestigious soccer tournament? Much, and very little of it good.

To start, decades of Gaddafi rule left Libya in a unique position among the countries that expelled dictators during the “Arab Spring.” While other countries had some history of institutions, be they civil society, local governance or others, Gaddafi’s particular brand of tyranny left the country wholly without a history of institutions that would translate to building a new democratic society.

As it turns out, institution building, including the military, the halls of constitutional governance and the constitution itself, from scratch is an extremely difficult proposition. Currently, Libya possesses “two rival leaders and assemblies each backed by armed factions,” according to Reuters.

Broadly, this conflict exists between Islamists, under a loose coalition known as the Libyan Dawn and non-Islamists loosely aligned with the government, but the warring allegiances between political affiliation, tribe, ethnicity and others cannot be oversimplified and militias loosely aligned with Islamist or government factions continue to exert huge influence across the country without the benefit of a professional military or police force that can disarm them or reign them in.

While Islamists held strong influence in the General National Congress, the country’s first post-Gaddafi legislative body, they no longer play the same role in the new assembly, the House of Representatives. For this reason, the GNC has refused to acknowledge the end of its mandate and attempted to continue its work.

In addition to the lawlessness across the country, its outcome has tremendous regional implications. Not only are foreign powers afraid of the lawlessness and instability as a breeding ground for terrorists, the broad battle across the Middle East and North Africa between old fashioned Arab dictators and rising Islamist influence is playing itself out with guns.

For this reason regional powers are playing an increasingly active role, with Qatar accused of financing and arming the Islamist rebels and recent New York Times reports of air strikes perpetrated by the UAE and Egypt on behalf of the secular government.

The two sides responded to these strikes in kind, with the Islamist coalition claiming the call for foreign intervention by the House of Representatives violated “constitutional legitimacy” and the House of Representatives stating that further foreign assistance was needed to defeat the Islamist rebels.

As the security situation has deteriorated, so too has ability of the country to secure those fighting for governance and the rule of law. In October of 2013 Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted from his Tripoli hotel room by one of the country’s armed militias. While he would be released unharmed after only a few hours in captivity, other leaders have not had the same luck.

Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, of these incidents centered around a September 11, 2012 attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi that would leave American Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans dead. Stephens and the Embassy staff are unfortunately not alone in this fate. It has also met Benghazi’s Chief of Police in late 2012 and a prominent member of the Cabinet in early 2014.

On Tuesday, the United States, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom released a joint statement via Facebook urging both sides of the conflict to accept an “immediate ceasefire” and “engage constructively in the democratic process.”

Perhaps most tellingly, the Western powers decried the current culture of impunity that is fueling chaos, stating “Those responsible for violence, which undermines Libya’s democratic transition and national security, must be held accountable. We welcome discussions on the political and security situation in Libya to be held by the United Nations Security Council in the coming days, including consequences for those who undermine Libya’s peace and stability.”

In less than three years Libya has gone from a country elated at its prospects to utter lawlessness. It finds itself as a flash point for regional conflict and without the institutional strength to prevent or end violence.

Only time will tell whether Libya can be pulled out of the violent struggle or if, as Richard Bailey, an Advisor to the Libyan Government, has suggested, the country is headed along “Somalia’s route to disaster…plung[ing] backwards into a conflict so complex it could take decades to fix.”

Between the country’s rampant insecurity and its inability to protect even its most well-guarded individuals, hosting the Africa Cup of Nations was simply not a viable option.

Andrew Friedman is a human rights attorney and freelance consultant who works and writes on legal reform and constitutional law with an emphasis on Africa. He can be reached via email at afriedm2@gmail.com or via twitter @AndrewBFriedman.