Zimbabwe expels Libyan ambassador after switch of allegiance to rebels

Libya's fallen leader Muammar Qaddafi still has friends in the Zimbabwe government of President Robert Mugabe, who shares ideological and financial ties with Libya's former leader.

By , Correspondent

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    Libyan Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Taher El-Magrahi , wearing white shirt front right, during a demonstration against the rule of Muammar Qaddafi outside the Libyan Embassy in Harare, in this Aug. 24 photo.
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The Zimbabwe government has expelled Libyan ambassador to Zimbabwe, Taher El-Magrahi and his staff for siding with the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC).

The expulsion follows Zimbabwe's move to force the Libyan embassy in Harare to pull down the rebel's new flag, which it flew briefly after switching allegiance to the NTC leadership in Benghazi.

The government of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi effectively fell last week when anti-Qaddafi forces took effective control of the nation's capital, Tripoli. Yet, for the Zimbabwe government – which has maintained close ties to Mr. Qaddafi because of the Libyan leader's financial and military support of rebel movements such as Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU PF party – Qaddafi's government is the only one that Zimbabwe will recognize.

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"The Libyan ambassador and his staff decided to renounce their allegiance to the government of Colonel Qaddafi," Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said on Tuesday. "This act deprives the Libyan ambassador and his staff of any diplomatic status in Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe does not recognize the NTC." He added, "So it is in this context that the Libyan ambassador and his staff are required to leave Zimbabwe within the next 72 hours.”

Qaddafi and President Robert Mugabe share a lot in common, especially their anti-Western stance and their preference for iron-fisted rule. El-Magrahi last week led his compatriots in burning portraits of Qaddafi and lowering the green flag synonymous with his regime. The embassy replaced the flag with that of the anti-Qaddafi rebellion. Mugabe and Qaddafi are said to have “deep” economic ties, but this has not yet been substantiated.

Qaddafi’s son, Saadi, was in Zimbabwe last August to seek business opportunities where he was feted like a king. He was escorted around the country at the time under heavy security and was taken to the majestic Victoria Falls for sight seeing by government officials. According to reports, he visited the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam in Masvingo province, where he promised to make a sizeable investment in the dam’s construction. (Rebels claimed to have captured Saadi Qaddafi on Aug. 22 in Tripoli.)

According to the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, trade between the two countries is negligible. According to Zimtrade export figures, Zimbabwe exported only $390,000 worth of goods to Libya between 2005 and 2009. Libyan Foreign Bank owns 96.6 million shares in government-controlled Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ), one of the largest indigenous banks in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe government is the largest of CBZ's shareholders, but Libya controls about 14.12 percent of CBZ Holdings Ltd’s total issued share capital.

Libya used to own around 14 percent of the Zimbabwe-based Rainbow Tourism Group’s total issued share capital, but it disposed of its holdings some time ago. Rainbow Tourism Group is the second largest hospitality company in Zimbabwe after African Sun and owns one of the five star hotels in the southern African nation, Rainbow Towers.

In 2002, Zimbabwe received oil from Libya under a $360 million loan facility that was to be repaid partly by the supply of farm produce to Tripoli. The deal collapsed after Zimbabwe failed to meet its side of the bargain.

The oil deal, which covered 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s fuel needs at the time, ran for less than a year when it was ended. There are unconfirmed reports though that Qaddafi was given vast tracts of land in exchange of the oil. The land was acquired by Mugabe under the controversial land-reform program, in which large white-owned commercial farms were expropriated by the state without compensation and given out to those politically connected to the ruling ZANU PF party of which Mugabe belongs.

Qaddafi’s other investments in Zimbabwe were exposed at a court case involving a Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings employee Stanley Musendo, who was being accused of defrauding the Qaddafis of $4 million. Mr. Musendo was being accused of stealing from Crieff Investments, which later changed its name to Aldawlia Investments, belonging to the Qaddafis. The company, according to reports, bought 12 haulage trucks and properties, which included 10 flats in the capital Harare.

Yet such business ties explain only part of why Zimbabwe's leaders are reluctant to see Qaddafi's departure. Like many nations of the African continent, Libya and Zimbabwe are led by men with strong "liberation credentials," with a common disdain for what they regard as Western interference and colonialism on the continent.

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