Post 9/11, New Hope Seen for Two African Trouble Spots

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15pm EDT

Nairobi ( - Relations between the U.S. and two African countries long identified with instability and terrorism are improving, and prospects for a more stable future in Libya and Somalia are looking better today than they have in decades.

Washington and Tripoli are edging towards resumption of full diplomatic relations, while lawmakers in a new Somalia parliament are calling for America's blessing on their efforts to end 13 years of anarchy.

Analysts agree that Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi's decision to relinquish his terror-sponsoring adventures was directly influenced by the U.S. war on terrorism, declared after the Sept. 11 attacks.

One year ago, Libya signed the African Union-led Algiers Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, committing itself to beefing up anti-terror laws and preventing its territory from being used as a base for the planning of terrorism.

The convention also requires signatories to send to the AU lists of individuals and organizations in their countries engaging in, or suspected to be engaging in, terror activities.

Tripoli's rapprochement with the U.S. picked up pace last December -- after the capture of Saddam Hussein -- when Libya agreed to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs and cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog in the process.

In February 2004, Libya allowed Western human rights campaigners to visit and hold talks with officials, the first since 1988.

As relations improved, the U.S. rescinded the restriction on the use of American passports for travel to Libya. American citizens, for the first time in 23 years, were permitted to travel to Libya for tourism, academic research, or family visits.

U.S. companies that operated in Libya before sanctions were imposed in the 1980s also were authorized to negotiate the terms of their re-entry.

The U.S. invited Libya to establish an Interests Section in Washington to facilitate the foundation for more extensive diplomatic relations in the future.

The U.S. government says it will approach ties with Libya on a careful, step-by-step basis. The bilateral relationship will depend upon continued, good-faith implementation by Libya of its commitments on scrapping WMD and fighting terrorism.

Nairobi-based politics scholar Akasha Alsayeed Akasha said Libya's decision to open-up to the U.S. came about after the North African nation realized that "revolutionary games of fighting imperialism" would not get it anywhere.

The move was also influenced by Libya's realization that it needed to contain growing Muslim fundamentalism within its borders by spreading democracy.

"For Libya, better relations with America means improved peace, stability and prosperity.

Akasha said Libya had for more than a decade been on military standby against the possibility of a U.S. military strike. It had therefore been spending some 35 percent of its national budget on defense.

Because the tension no longer exists, these funds will now be released for development.

Libya also is expected, in time, to benefit economically from trade with, and crude oil exports to, the U.S. and European nations, Akasha said.

Foreign policy analyst Winluck Wahiu of the International Commission of Jurists here said renewed ties with the U.S. would significantly boost Libya's trade, diminish a security threat, and open up the African country to American cultural influence.

Because Libya had "relaxed its export of anti-American revolution to other African nations in favor of material exports," the result would be increased wealth creation opportunities for Africa, he said.

At the same time, Wahiu argued that an overall improvement of relations between the U.S. and Muslims in Africa depended on other factors.

American support for Israel and the perception that the war on terror was "anti-Islam" would continue to limit U.S. diplomatic successes with African Muslim nations, he predicted.

The U.S. imposed sanctions on Libya in 1982, expanding them in early 1986 and ordering Americans to leave. During subsequent U.S. military maneuvers in the Mediterranean, Libya fired missiles at American planes. The U.S. bombed two
Libyan ships and a missile site in response.

Later that year tensions mounted again, after the U.S. blamed Libya for bombing a disco in Germany, killing a U.S. serviceman and two other people. In retaliation, the U.S. attacked targets in Libya.

The United Nations followed the U.S. in imposing sanctions on Libya for the 1988 bombing of a PanAm airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, and Gadaffi's refusal to hand over two agents believed responsible.

In 1999, Libya eventually handed over the two for trial at a special court in the Netherlands. One of the two was convicted of murder in 2001.

Tripoli also accepted responsibility and has offered compensation for both the Lockerbie bombing and the 1989 bombing of a French Airliner over Niger.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said last week Washington was dealing closely with Libya on issues like non-proliferation, but work remained to be done.

"We're not at the point yet where we could certify -- under the terrorism sanctions, for example -- that that behavior had changed completely to the point where we can lift the sanctions," he said.

'A new Somalia'

In the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia, meanwhile, a new transitional parliament -- which emerged from two years of peace talks -- was inaugurated last week.

At a special first seating of the 275-member legislature in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Somali leaders voiced support for improved relations with Washington.

"We need to get the blessings of United States," said Prof. Abdulahim Ibbi, a lawmaker and former minister in a previous transitional national government.

"We have paid the price for our poor relations with the U.S.," he declared. "The past should be forgotten. We hope the Americans will now give us their blessing."

Ibbi said Somalia hoped to develop "very good information sharing" with the U.S. in relation to the war against terror.

A decade ago, the U.S. offered troops to safeguard U.N. food delivery to more than a million people threatened with starvations as a result of civil war and famine.

But American efforts to restore order were violently resisted by armed militia of the late warlord, Mohamed Farah Aideed. In Oct. 1993, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed and another 84 were injured in a failed mission, which also killed more than 300 Somali militia and civilians.

President Clinton withdrew the troops in March 1994.

Since then, armed factions have controlled various regions of the country, and no functioning central government has operated.

U.S. diplomatic relations with Somalia have been severed, although Washington has maintained contacts with entities in the country, through its embassy in Nairobi.

After 9/11, Somalia gained greater attention internationally as a suspected haven for Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda.

Among measures designed to cope with the threat of Somalia-related terror, sanctions were applied against the extremist Al-Ittihad group and a Dubai-based company involved in financial dealings in Somalia.

Peace talks were eventually spearheaded by Kenya and in Oct. 2002 a ceasefire was signed and last January a draft charter or constitution was agreed upon.

The convoluted peace process has been hampered by disputes among five major Somali clans.

Speaking in Nairobi, Anad Ahmed Ashareh, minister for information in Puntland -- a region of Somalia that runs its own administration -- also expressed hopes for renewed relations with the U.S.

"We want the U.S. to spearhead helping us in anything that threatens the security of Somalia and the whole region," he said.

The key challenges facing the new administration included disarmament, reconciliation, and re-establishing Somalia's relations with its neighbours.

Lawmakers attending the first sitting were jovial and voiced high expectations for the new Somalia.

Asha Haji Elmi, one of the 24 women legislators, spoke of the need for "systems that guarantee a future for our children and human rights for everybody, no matter the clan,"

Echoing the sentiments of other lawmakers interviewed by, she said her greatest fear was that the international community would not recognise and support the new government.

Idd Beddel Mohamed, the United Nations deputy representative for Somalia, said the international community had expressed willingness to support the outcome of the peace process.

Secretary-general Kofi Annan "has made tremendous efforts to ensure recognition of this government," he said.

In Washington, the State Department in a statement welcomed the new Somalia assembly.

Spokesman Richard Boucher hailed the efforts of a national conference that produced the parliament agreement, and called on all those who may still challenge the results to express themselves through peaceful means.

The U.S. urged the parliament to get on with the task of selecting a president, prime minister and other officials, to begin the process of reconciliation and reconstruction.

The parliament will have a five-year term and is to select a transitional national president - the country's first since strongman Siad Barre was ousted by clan-based factions in a 1991 coup that plunged the country into chaos.

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(CNSNews Pacific Rim Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)

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