Tuscaloosa to Tawargha
Can Al-Keib take on the NTC and punch above his weight? Gamal Nkrumah
Rather than turning into a lame duck, Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) seems to have become proactive. Over the weekend, 56 of the NTC's 72 members openly declared that they favoured a no-confidence motion against the government of Libyan interim Prime Minister Abdel-Rahim Al-Keib who was first catapulted into national attention when he was selected by the NTC as an apolitical technocrat.
Al-Keib came to power at a period of national confusion, exhaustion, angst and grief. The knives are out. Assassins are at work. The latest victim of the violence is Gaddafi's onetime oil chief, the high-profile Shukri Ghanem whose story reads like a fictional murder mystery and suspense horror thriller. His corpse was found floating in the Danube River in Vienna, the Austrian capital and headquarters of OPEC, the organisation of petroleum exporting countries.
Even as Al-Keib battles for political survival in Libya an autopsy was performed to determine the cause of death of Ghanem in Vienna. Ghanem was mistrusted by the NTC and viewed as a Gaddafi loyalist even though he defected during the dying days of the Gaddafi regime because of "unbearable violence". He failed to bring life back to the vanished world of his erstwhile master.
In sharp contrast, Al-Keib is untainted by any association with the Gaddafi regime. He has been handed a tough assignment -- the rehabilitation of a country that has changed out of all recognition. Al-Keib obtained a Masters degree from the University of Southern California in 1976 and a Doctorate from North Carolina State University in 1984. Al-Keib then embarked on a teaching career in Tuscaloosa University, Alabama.
Exorcising the ghosts of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi era, the 42 years that the country's new ruling clique and crop of upstart politicians prefer to forget, is no easy task. The apocalyptic violence that preceded his brutal assassination at the hands of militiamen supported by NATO logistical support and military aggression against Gaddafi forces was supposed to lead to a reign of peace.
Confusion electrifies the lightening storm- clouds of highly charged words that betray the lack of cohesion in post-Gaddafi Libya's decision-making process. Catastrophe threatens to succeed the fierce power struggles ahead of the country's first national elections. "There is consensus within the NTC to oust Al-Keib," prominent NTC member Fathi Baja told reporters in Tripoli.
This step should not be analysed merely in its own context. By nominating Al-Keib for the prime ministerial post, the NTC had taken some of the sting out of the nasty process of nepotism by which Gaddafi had traditionally appointed the top posts in the country. This does not mean that a technocrat should not be appointed, but that candidates to the Libyan premiership should be chosen based on merit and not on tribal affiliation.
Understandably Libya has been traumatised by these events. Another NTC member, the outspoken Moussa Al-Kouni, backed Baja's statement. Al-Amin Belhaj, NTC member and leading figure in Libya's Muslim Brotherhood, in conjunction with other Islamists within the NTC, prefers to see Mustafa Abu-Shakour, Al-Keib's deputy, as Libya's prime minister. Others opt for Libya's Labour Minister Mustafa Al-Rajbani.
Still, the NTC official spokesman Mohamed Al-Hareizi denied that the Council had sacked Al-Keib's government. Amid all the hubbub, three blasts exploded near a courthouse in Benghazi where the suspected assassin of Abdel-Fattah Younis, the NTC's charismatic slain first military chief, is held in custody. All hell was let loose.
Al-Keib has so far handled the crisis admirably. He focused on the need for national unity. Al-Keib keeps a low profile. But his detractors say he procrastinates. His critics hint that he is unpatriotic because he owes primary allegiance to a foreign power, NATO. But then other members of the NTC, in spite of their flag-waving jingoism, are equally guilty of subservience to foreign interests, particularly those of Washington, and more broadly speaking of NATO and the West. NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, too, is often dismissed by many Libyans as being the very personification of the proverbial Western lackey.
Questions clearly need to be asked about how the security services systematically fail to bring the various militias to heel.
However, for the sake of his country, this is a temptation Al-Keib should resist. He cannot single-handedly contest the warring militias. Some of his economic remedies may be questionable, but they are within the realm of reasonable debate about the prospects of a prosperous Libyan economy.
Yet the strategy is not without its flaws. Many Libyans fear their country's assets are being sold off for a pittance to Western powers.
Al-Keib also needs to think about how to integrate Libya's black and politically peripheralised citizens. His government has largely neglected the issue.
Al-Keib has the responsibility to ensure that the political impasse engulfing the country does not slip down the path that plays on racial prejudice and fear.
The Green Resistance became the excuse for post-Gaddafi Libyan politicians to ratchet up the already overheated rhetoric about security. Unlike Abdel-Jalil, Al-Keib emerged into the Libyan political arena after the Gaddafi regime came down. Since then he has proved himself an adroit power player in Libyan politics. Still, Al-Keib is not entirely in control of the Libyan political landscape.
The dangers posed by organised crime in post- Gaddafi Libya dog Al-Keib as the case of Shukri Ghanem demonstrates.
Al-Keib may have his shortcomings but he gives the impression of being aboveboard and straightforward while in truth he is a wily politician. This is partly because Al-Keib appears to be grounded and competent in economic matters. Al-Keib is known for an ability to defy conventional wisdom to find solutions and an aptitude for crossing disciplinary boundaries. His impulsive nature is said to infuriate those who have to deal with him directly.
On the question of security concerns, Al-Keib demonstrated pitifully few tangible achievements. He claims that his role is not to pontificate but to act.
His approval ratings, though apparently fast falling, remain high among many influential members of the post-Gaddafi Libyan political establishment, in spite of the disapproval of key NTC members. The NTC, however, does not constitute the entire fabric of Libyan political players.
Al-Keib himself is typically defiant. There is no indication that the NTC will now permit an open contest for the Libyan premiership. According to the pro-NTC Libya Al-Ahrar TV channel, 54 NTC members signed a memorandum calling for Al-Keib to resign from his post as prime minister.
The consolidation of security and political stability has been the stated priority of Al-Keib's political agenda.
"It is a phase for laying foundations and managing crises. We have inherited from the former regime an administration apparatus that lacks training and qualifications," Al-Keib was quoted as saying in the London-based Pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat. Some of this is out of his hands.
After this week, Al-Keib's bravado will be taken rather more seriously than just a few days ago. He achieves a great deal by being a Libyan leader who obviously carries Western ideals in his shadow.
Some of the same instincts were on display this week with his sweeping away of NTC reservations about his leadership. There are plenty of uncertainties about the political future of the country.
The NTC's incessant infighting and scandals come just as it is trying to clean up its act amid allegations that it has failed the Libyan people. Al-Keib's reconciliatory initiative as regards his adversaries offers a more constructive way forward. But it is one that will only work if Libyans themselves support it. What is less commendable is the way in which the authorities are handling the North African country's host of problems.
Even so, the ghost of Gaddafi, the Abu Shafshufa or Fuzzhead in colloquial Libyan Arabic, hovers over Libya, still.
Fears of an abortive democracy in Libya persist. Cruelty coupled with nepotism and corruption does have a cost. That should be the powerful message emanating from the NTC.
Whether that message will take off remains to be seen. It is also true that a close reading of the political situation in Libya points to the exclusion of blacks and women from the decision-making process. There is a risk of setting a precedent in the Arab world of institutional discrimination against blacks. The NTC ought to take this matter more seriously.
It may seem puzzling that the disruptive power of militias has been slow to collide with the powers that be. Questions clearly need to be asked about how the security services failed to anticipate the threat posed by the militias. The militiamen are on the watch-lists of international human rights organisations.
The debate about systematic institutionalised racism in post-Gaddafi Libya needs to start now. Human rights campaigners have long been agitating for more investigations into human rights violations.
Amnesty International urged the NTC to investigate the death of a Tawargha man under torture and prosecute the perpetrators of the crime. International human rights organisations warned that the systematic persecution of black Libyans and especially the people of the city of Tawargha and the Tebu people of southern Libya in the oasis town of Kufra in the southeast and Sebha in Fezzan must cease.
According to an Amnesty International report, the Misrata Security Committee, a branch of the city's post-Gaddafi local council, tortured and killed Barnous Bousa, a black Libyan from Tawargha. His corpse was found with a wound in the back of his head. He was a civilian and was wrongly accused of being a mercenary in the Gaddafi loyalists' army now renamed the Green Resistance.
"This brutal death highlights the continuing dangers to detainees in the new Libya," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoul, the Middle East and North Africa deputy director of Amnesty International said. "How many more victims will die from torture before the authorities realise the gravity of the situation, and deliver on their promises of investigating, prosecuting and putting an end to such crimes," she asked.
Militias from Misrata drove out the entire population of Tawargha in August 2011. Many have been publicly denounced politically and accused of treason. These incidents are not merely tribal skirmishes -- these barbarous acts are clearly racially motivated.
The blacks of Libya are entitled to feel hard put-upon. Nothing brought home the horrors of the mistreatment of the blacks of Libya in the post-Gaddafi era than the callous murder in cold blood of a citizen of Tawargha. Sadly, the murderers of the man cannot be brought to justice.
Understandably Libya has been traumatised by the events. Libya needs a raft of new anti-torture legislation.