Libya could become a Mad Max republic of migrants

Thursday December 14 2017

Slavery Libya

Protesters demonstrate against "Slavery in Libya" on November 23, 2017, outside the Libyan embassy in the Moroccan capital Rabat. Images broadcast by CNN earlier this month appearing to show migrants auctioned off as slaves by Libyan traffickers has sparked outrage in Europe and anger in Africa. PHOTO | AFP 

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The recent outrage and anger over the slave auctions in Libya of thousands of African migrants stranded there on the perilous journey to Europe, will take a while to die down – but eventually it will.

There are too many inconvenient facts about what is happening in Libya. Among them, the fact that it involves an intricate network from West Africa, the Sahel, and North Africa.

Nigerian and Ghanaian human traffickers are making a fortune out of the trade. That leads to the second extremely uncomfortable reality; we are back to the era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade of the 16th to 19th centuries, in which millions of Africans were sold, mostly to the Americas.

African chiefs, kings, and queens, captured many of the slaves in raids, and sold them to the European traders. Or, African “states”, such as they were then, were incapable of protecting their people, as leaders like Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni have said and written a thousand times.

Most modern African states are no different. Their first failure has been in their inability — and sometimes lack of interest — in providing sufficient economic opportunities for their people at home, to dissuade them from trekking to Libya and trying to cross to Europe.

Having so many young people leaving Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and other West African countries is actually good politics for some of the regimes, because it means they will not be around — whether they die in the desert, drown in the Mediterranean, or actually make landing in Europe — to carry out uprisings.

European problem

In addition, international liberals have succeeded in making the migrant crisis in Libya a European problem, leaving African governments mostly off the hook.

This partly explains why these migrations have not exercised African leaders much. But this crisis will not go away. Beyond the moral outrage of the slave auctions, lies a possibility that should frighten — or indeed please — more.

Look 10 years down the road, if Libya doesn’t stabilise and the governments are unable to stop or change the direction of the migrant flow.

We are probably looking at the rise of dystopian worlds right out of the Mad Max movies. Imagine four million Africans are stranded in Libya over the next years.

You cannot sell all of them, because there’s simply no market for that many people, and there’s no force in Africa that would stop them if they organised.

They would be many and desperate enough to organise unique — and possibly revolutionary — new forms of society for their survival. They would raise armies, take over lands that states don’t control, farm them, and make money in a new Trans-Sahara trade.

New states

They would build towns, and soon schools, churches, mosques — essentially create new states. These in turn would be filled by more migrants.

The conventional view sees three main threats to the modern state — organised crime, anti-government rebel movements, and terrorist groups, with some like ISIS looking to establish caliphates.

This would be different. They wouldn’t seek to overthrow, but build alternatives to the current failed model in Africa, and perhaps be more diverse and egalitarian than most of our states.

The African migrant crisis could finally give us neo-caliphates that worship mammon, not God. I actually like the idea.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]