Observing Libya and its struggle to become a nation is sometimes really frustrating. The 2011 Revolution against the regime that quickly become a civil war, did not bode well. Too many hidden latent divisions, too many fragilities behind the façade of a new era filled with hope. Yet Libya is nothing but the result of its history, a story that has something in common with other African states.
Most of them, after decolonization, inherited a large part of the old colonial structures which were not the result of a process of natural evolution, as instead happened in Europe. The structures, the administration, the bureaucracy had been exported during colonization and left there at the time of decolonization. What remained was not a structurally rooted organism, but rather a fragile hybrid. To compensate for this, the formula of the strongman seemed perfect. And proof of this, it is the fact that between 1958 and 1984, 58 military coups in African nations were successful. One of these happened precisely in 1969, when Muhammar Gaddafi rise to power in Libya.
In those new nations there was no middle class - it would have developed later - and climate and territory were two obstacles that should not be underestimated. Africa's ties with its colonizers remained strong, but Western governments have never been able to understand that Africa was different from Europe and that focusing on the classic systems of Western democracy would not have led to great results. It was thought, and still today incredibly someone continue to think so, that the elections are the beginning, the foundations for a democratic country. Elections are instead the last step of a long process of democratization that can last even centuries. The case of the French president Emmanuel Macron who did everything to have elections in Libya, obviously failing miserably, is the clear proof of that. Being focused only on politics and not on the socio-economic environment is a big mistake.
According to this wrong ritual, the elections in Africa have for the majority of the cases represented a moment of consolidation of an already existing elite, clinging to power with nails and teeth. In some of these nations, the political career in fact represents a real change of life and an enrichment for individuals and for their entourage or clan, often to the detriment of their voters. Until now, little has been done for a real political plurality. Those who reach power, gain it because they tear it away from someone else, not through a healthy political competition.
Fragile and shallow institutions, without social sediment, have therefore exponentially facilitated the advent of military personnel, the real holders of the monopoly of the force, often supported by the same Westerners who recognize in them an attractive business opportunity. It matters little if the local populations are starving, often object to daily violence. At the end of the day, if their leaders do not take care of them, why should Western politicians?
Political models must remain models, often useful as a methodology grid, but they cannot be exported slavishly. Africa is not Europe, its social humus is different and therefore their evolution cannot be the same. The revolutions that Europe, Russia and the United States have experienced have not had an equivalent in Africa. Having this very clear, it would prevent further damage to what has already been heavily damaged. Libya is a clear example of this.
Trump should take some history lessons to understand how to behave when he speaks about Africa. His statement regarding the phone call he had with field marshal Haftar that is besieging Tripoli without any real justification and in spite of the project of the United Nations and the resolutions taken in the last eight years is proof of what we have said so far. A sentence, a simple joke by the president of the United States can have direct and collateral effects of extraordinary intensity, and for this reason every single word should be the result of study and reasoning. Haftar's attack is wrong and will not bring peace to Libya, which is why endorsing its work is a shameful and clear sign of a West that has understood very little about Africa.