Cash-Strapped Zimbabwe Dictator Looks To Libya For Election Help

By Mark Klusener | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Johannesburg ( - Zimbabwe's main opposition party is outraged at the news that Libya has offered to foot the bill for embattled President Robert Mugabe's campaign for re-election.

Reports from the Zimbabwe capital, Harare, say Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has offered Mugabe almost $1 million for his campaign in the run up to presidential elections next April.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said the donation violates a recently amended bill, which prohibits foreign assistance to political parties.

Ironically, the Zimbabwe Electoral Act was amended earlier this year in an attempt by the government to curb foreign financial assistance to the MDC, which offer the first credible challenge to Mugabe since he took power at independence 21 years ago.

"We are not surprised that Mugabe is trying to get aid from outside of Zimbabwe," said the MDC's David Coltart.

"In Zimbabwe, the attorney-general has let political murderers walk free because they were members of the ruling party," he said. "We don't expect him to do anything against the president."

Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party dismissed the report as "nonsense." But a highly placed source in the party confirmed the offer was made during a meeting between Gaddafi and Mugabe.

Gaddafi has also donated 24 Jeep Cherokees for ZANU-PF officials to use.

Meanwhile, concern is reported to be growing at the U.S. State Department and in many Western embassies in Africa about the degree to which the Libyan leader is sponsoring projects throughout the African continent, having turned his focus from the Arab world.

Apart from the election loan, Gaddafi has agreed to supply more than $300 million worth of fuel to cash-strapped Zimbabwe in exchange for agricultural produce.

Zimbabwe faces its worst fuel crisis since independence, as foreign donors continue to cut off aid to Mugabe's government. Gaddafi has been one of the few African leaders to come to his aid in any meaningful way.

"Gaddafi has a limited capacity to influence leaders in the Arab world," said Sanusha Naidu of the African Institute of International Affairs.

"Libya is seen as a pariah state with almost no credibility among the powerhouses of the global economy, especially the United States. It is quite plausible that Gaddafi would carve out strategic areas of interest on the African continent," she said.

Gaddafi has already shown he is keen to be recognized as an African statesman. Among moves in recent weeks, Libya has sent envoys to Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. It has pledged to provide Ghana with enough fuel to resolve its shortfall.

Libya is also at the center of a peace initiative with Egypt aimed at ending the civil war in Sudan. And Libyan oil wealth is bolstering the economies of countries in the African Sahara.

Moreover, Gaddafi recently thwarted a coup attempt in the Central African Republic by sending in Libyan troops to put down an army rebellion.

Last week, he personally delivered drought aid to Kenya and was given a rousing welcome when he visited Uganda for the second time in as many months.

Last year, he played a key role in securing the release of two South Africans who were kidnapped by Muslim rebels in the Philippines. It was reported at the time that Libya had offered $1 million for each hostage's release.

Libya's open support for the Mugabe government is likely to cause concern in the West.

Since early last year, thousands of ZANU-PF militants have launched a violent land grab campaign supported by Mugabe. The government has nationalized most white-owned farms, and there is an active push to force all whites out of the country.

The move has thrown Zimbabwe into economic turmoil, and in two years Mugabe, once the darling of Britain, is now regarded as a dictator.

Analysts say that by backing Mugabe, it is Gaddafi who is damaging his image.

"He is thumbing his nose at the rest of the world and supporting his friends regardless of who they are, and what everyone else thinks," said Naidu.