The response to the death of Muammar Qaddafi was not celebrated in many parts of black Africa. Many in countries south of Libya may have tired long ago of the eccentric Libyan leader's vision of a United Africa, even if he was willing to back it with generous handouts. But as Mahmood Mamdani writes at aljazeera.com, it also reminded Africa's remaining "strongman" leaders of their own vulnerability to foreign intervention:
The conditions making for external intervention in Africa are growing, not diminishing. The continent is today the site of a growing contention between dominant global powers and new challengers. The Chinese role on the continent has grown dramatically. Whether in Sudan and Zimbawe, or in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria, that role is primarily economic, focused on two main activities: building infrastructure and extracting raw materials. For its part, the Indian state is content to support Indian mega-corporations; it has yet to develop a coherent state strategy. But the Indian focus too is mainly economic.
The contrast with Western powers, particularly the US and France, could not be sharper. The cutting edge of Western intervention is military. France's search for opportunities for military intervention, at first in Tunisia, then Cote d'Ivoire, and then Libya, has been above board and the subject of much discussion. Of greater significance is the growth of Africom, the institutional arm of US military intervention on the African continent.
This is the backdrop against which African strongmen and their respective oppositions today make their choices. Unlike in the Cold War, Africa's strongmen are weary of choosing sides in the new contention for Africa. Exemplified by President Museveni of Uganda, they seek to gain from multiple partnerships, welcoming the Chinese and the Indians on the economic plane, while at the same time seeking a strategic military presence with the US as it wages its War on Terror on the African continent.
In contrast, African oppositions tend to look mainly to the West for support, both financial and military. It is no secret that in just about every African country, the opposition is drooling at the prospect of Western intervention in the aftermath of the fall of Gaddafi.
This is the kind of analysis rare in American media: a focus on the consequences for Africans, not just for U.S. strategic interests. Mamdani, who teaches at Columbia University and Makerere University in Uganda, presents a bleak picture and warns Africans that, even when frustrated by their own governments, inviting foreign intervention could be disastrous — again.