A British Member of Parliament this week said people were now saying they should have supported Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi or Iraq President Saddam Hussein because what they were seeing now was much worse.
Both Gaddafi and Hussein were deposed in what were termed popular uprisings against their dictatorship by their own people but with the help of the West and were hunted down and killed like rats.
Speaking in the House of Commons on the debate about extremism in North and West Africa, Mark Hendrick said although some African leaders had been swept away by religious movements or as a result of impoverishment and inequalities with military help from the West, it is now evident that military intervention is not a solution.
“People are now saying, ‘perhaps we should have supported Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein or Assad, because what we are seeing now is much worse’. We will never know the answer. However, we are now sure that pure military intervention is no solution.
“A long-term solution may be to shape events, win hearts and minds and try to secure economic development where it is needed, but that cannot be done by Britain alone. Many of us think that because of our colonial past—hon. Members can see that I am a product of our colonial past—Britain has all the answers. However, we do not and neither does the United States,” he said.
Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour): -The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sir Richard Ottaway, rightly highlighted the three case studies in the report: Mali, Algeria and Nigeria. We wanted to establish the principal causes of the extremism that we saw in those countries and what we, in Britain, could do about it. We found a heady mix. As I am sure is of no surprise to many people in the Chamber, the combination of poverty, inequality, corruption and misgovernance contributed to the situation we found in Africa. Those things are not unique to Africa, and they occur in the middle east, Asia and many other parts of the world where terrorism is beginning to flourish. They are a recipe for instability.
If we look back to 19th and 20th century Europe, we see that, from the beginning of the industrial revolution through to the nuclear age, there was affluence and wealth but a huge difference between rich and poor. That mix spawned the revolutions and instability of those centuries. We are seeing the same in the 21st century, but it is much worse and on a global scale. We particularly see that in Africa, where there is newfound wealth from oil, gas, valuable materials, diamonds and gold. Africa has become a battleground extraordinaire between rich and poor because it is a continent where, in many ways, economic development seems to be going backwards while there is huge wealth and potential prosperity from which very few people benefit.
Different things happened in our three case studies. There was French intervention in Mali. In Algeria we particularly looked at the In Amenas incident, and I still get inquiries to this day from people who work for oil companies attached not only to Algeria but to other parts of north Africa. I can draw on what members of the Committee learned from travelling to Algeria. The third country that we looked at, Nigeria, has hit the headlines at the moment. Visiting Nigeria had a big impact on me, as it did on my hon. Friend Sandra Osborne. To see the rampant and explicit nature of the terrorism in northern Nigeria was indeed a shock, and of course since our return it has become much worse; I will refer to that development later.
One of the conclusions of the report is that north and west Africa has become a new front line. We all knew about the existing front line. In the east, it started around Chechnya, in what was a southern part of the Soviet Union; it reached through to the middle east and north Africa; and it covered Somalia in eastern Africa. Now it has extended across to north and west Africa, the region that we are considering today. It is an arc reaching from north-eastern Europe through the middle east and across the whole of Africa, and it is encircling Europe. The UK is obviously a bit further afield because of our geographical location, and I will discuss the UK later. Nevertheless, the effect is being felt not only in mainland Europe but in the UK, as we are already beginning to see; my hon. Friend Mike Gapes mentioned that earlier.
The report outlines many of our findings, but let me go through some of the events that have taken place in Africa this year alone. I believe that there is no end in sight to the current instability in the region of north and west Africa, particularly in the three countries we looked at but further afield as well. In Libya, we have seen continued instability, with political assassinations and attempted coups, and there is now fighting in the capital between the rebels and the army. On 11 January, the deputy Industry Minister, Hassan al-Droui, was shot dead during a visit to his home town of Sirte, which is east of Tripoli. The identity of the shooters is still unknown. On 20 February, Libyans went to the polls to elect a panel to draft a new constitution. Just 1.1 million of the 3.4 million eligible voters went to register, compared with the more than 2.7 million people who participated in Libya’s first free election in July 2012.
When Labour was in Government and Mr Blair went to embrace Colonel Gaddafi, Libya quite openly and willingly discarded its nuclear weapons. We thought that would possibly be a new beginning in Libya. Since then, however, we and the French have intervened in what was the beginning of a civil war. Afterwards, when we thought we had what we would call a result in Libya, the situation became even worse, and currently there is great instability.
Two coup d’état attempts have been made in 2014 by forces loyal to Major General Haftar, the commander of the Libyan ground forces. First Haftar took control of Libya’s main institutions, before announcing on TV that he had suspended the General National Congress, the Government and the constitutional declaration. On 18 May, it was reported that the Parliament building had been stormed by troops loyal to him.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South said, there are consequences of intervention, even if it is very difficult to say what they are. Then again, we know the consequences of non-intervention, because the people of Benghazi would have been slaughtered by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces if the west had not intervened in the way that it did and he had remained in power.
We have seen the ousting of the sitting Prime Minister, and on 11 March the rebels sold oil to North Korea; the Morning Glory tanker reportedly took at least 234,000 barrels of crude oil there. It was the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held port since the revolt against the Tripoli authorities erupted last July. Such unchecked activities are going on in the background, and a rogue state such as North Korea can receive support from a country such as Libya. There has been further fighting by rebels in Libya, too. We could not have predicted what is going on today, and that is the problem with intervention.
The French intervened in Mali. In May, the ceasefire was broken with clashes between the two sides in the northern city of Kidal, which killed at least 36 people. Mali’s army launched an operation to seize Kidal but was defeated by the rebels, who then seized two more towns. Also in May, the fragile truce with the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad separatists broke down in the north of the country, and the separatists seized control of Kidal and the towns of Menaka, Agelhok, Anefis and Tessalit.
In Nigeria, things are also getting worse. On Tuesday, the military said that it had broken up a Boko Haram cell that had masterminded the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April, but hours before that a bomb blast struck a busy market in Maiduguri, the capital of the Islamist insurgents’ home state of Borno. At least 2,000 people have been killed this year, compared with an estimated 3,600 in the four years since the insurgency began. This year alone, there have been 20 attacks by Boko Haram that have been officially reported, in which at least 1,158 people have been killed, and an estimated 12,000 people have died so far in the five-year insurgency.
As I said at the beginning of my contribution, the link between economic inequality and extremism is well known and well developed. Nigeria has the resources to beat Boko Haram if it was determined to do so, but most of its staggering oil wealth—up to $70 billion annually—is held by a small, politically connected elite, who remain insulated from Boko Haram’s terror tactics and seem almost indifferent to the war. As far as many people in Lagos are concerned, Boko Haram is Muslims killing Muslims. Those people in Lagos are Christians, so do they care? No, they do not. That attitude permeates the political realm in Nigeria.
When we were in Nigeria and spoke to people there, we learned that Nigerian MPs are paid a salary 10 times that of a Member of this House, and if they are not corrupt people think that there is something wrong with them as a politician. It is the sort of society where corruption is endemic and self-serving politicians are rife, so what is going on in the north of the country is of little or no consequence to people in Lagos.
Nigeria has nearly 16,000 millionaires, a number that has jumped by 44% in the past six years. As I have said, much of the wealth is concentrated in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city, where the northern rebellion by Boko Haram feels like a distant rumour. The divide between the Christian south and the Muslim north is huge, and the extent of relative poverty and inequality in the north has led several analysts and organisations to argue that socio-economic deprivation is the main factor behind Boko Haram’s campaign of violence there.
The communities of northern Nigeria are being wrecked by poverty, deteriorating social services and infrastructure, educational backwardness, rising numbers of unemployed graduates, massive numbers of unemployed youths, dwindling fortunes in agriculture and the weak and dwindling production base of the northern economy.
As for Mali, after Gaddafi’s fall in Libya the Tuareg people who had fought for him went home to Mali. Poor and with no livelihoods, within months they had tipped northern Mali into full-scale armed rebellion and there was a takeover of the region by Islamist fighters. The Tuareg have traditionally been a nomadic people with little personal wealth.
As I have said, Libya is reliant on oil and much of the current fighting is about the oil revenues going to the capital and not to other parts of the country. There is a strong argument in many places for greater autonomy. What the Tuareg separatists in Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamist rebels in Libya all have in common is a desire for their own state, as we have seen in Syria and Iraq with ISIS. Extremist as they may be, they feel that they are not getting a fair deal from the existing establishment. A lot of that stems from the growth inequalities that I have spoken about. Ultimately, they desire to govern their own affairs.
In Mali, the separatist movements demand greater autonomy for the north, which they term Azawad, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South mentioned. Yet Governments in the region continue to be mistrustful of Islamists in politics, as they would put it. The Prime Minister of Mali, Moussa Mara, said: “Say we give the Kidal region more resources and a lot more decentralized power, and they elect a jihadist to lead Kidal. That means we would have given our territory to jihadists, and democratically. This is what we want to avoid”.
A similar sentiment is offered by many Governments throughout the region and the throughout the west.
We know that boundaries in many of these countries do not reflect historical tribal land occupations, religious differences that exist between groups and locations of resources. In the aftermath of colonialisation, the development of cities and the exploitation of resources do not take account of population needs. That is the reason for the current conflict.
What can we do? Diplomatic effort by the UK in Africa may have a little effect, but many African countries remember the colonisation of Africa by the United Kingdom. As much as Britain has good intentions, given that history, it is not always trusted in Africa.
We have tried intervention in Libya and Iraq. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South said, we have also tried inaction sometimes, and non-intervention, for example in Syria, although that is not a response. It seems contradictory and inconsistent to have invaded Iraq, as we in the west did with the Americans, where there were no weapons of mass destruction and no chemical weapons, but not to have invaded Syria when we had the option to do so, albeit from the air or by helping separatists, when there were chemical weapons.
Maliki is blaming Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia is blaming Maliki. In America, the Republicans are blaming Obama and the liberals are blaming Bush. Everybody is blaming each other when looking at the separatists, whether ISIS or terrorist operations in Africa. Everybody in every country has to take some responsibility.
Aid is helpful if it is targeted, but there are governance problems and corruption. In Africa and elsewhere around the world, post-colonialism, there was a move towards nationalism, whether in Africa or in the Arab middle east—Assad in Syria, Gaddafi in Libya, Mugabe in Zimbabwe. However, many nationalist leaders have, as a result of impoverishment and inequalities, now been swept away by religious movements. People are now saying, “Perhaps we should have supported Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein or Assad, because what we are seeing now is much worse.” We will never know the answer. However, we are now sure that pure military intervention is no solution.
A long-term solution may be to shape events, win hearts and minds and try to secure economic development where it is needed, but that cannot be done by Britain alone. Many of us think that because of our colonial past—hon. Members can see that I am a product of our colonial past—Britain has all the answers. However, we do not and neither does the United States. Although we have good intentions, the future of this country’s wider international influence is in helping people shape events for the greater good, rather than just attacking or intervening because we do not like people or standing back because we are too scared about public opinion. We have to be brave about this. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.