The alarm bells are ringing loudly in the three most important capitals threatened by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's move to effect a union between his country and Chad, immediately to the south.
The three capitals are:
Paris, from where French President Giscard d'Estaing dispatched his foreign minister, Jean Francois-Poncet, to Abidjan, capital of the Ivory Coast, Jan. 8 to discuss implications of the proposed union for African stability and security.
Lagos, where, at the beginning of this week, the Nigerian government gave the Libyans 48 hours to close their embassy in the federal capital.
Cairo, where an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official attacked the proposed union as showing "Qaddafi's expansionist dreams."
In Washington, State Department officials were quoted by Reuters Jan. 7 as being "extremely concerned . . . in light of the presence in Chad [already] of an estimated 4,000 Libyan troops with tanks and artillery."
This Libyan military presence, beefed up with Soviet-made weaponry, was brought into Libya at the end of last year to help the President of Chad, Goukhouni Woddei, win a civil war that had been under way off and on for years. President Woddei's consent to the proposed union with Libya is, in effect, the quid he has been obliged to give for the quo of Colonel Qaddafi's military help (which President Woddei denies having received). The Chad President may also have decided that it is the best way to ensure that he holds on to power.
France is concerned about the Libyan thrust southward across the Sahara into Chad because of the threat it represents to Niger and Mali. Both states, which lie immediately to the west of Chad, are French-speaking (and to some extent French protected). Niger is a source of uranium for France's nuclear program.
Some of Colonel qaddafi's recent statements about the Tuaregs and their "coming home" to Libya have caused concern among his neighbors, particularly in relatively weak and sparsely populated Niger and Mali. The Tuaregs are a distinctive, mainly nomadic sub-Saharan ethnic group whose homeland overlaps the frontiers not only of Niger, Mali, and Chad, but also of Algeria.
French Foreign Minister Francois-Poncet is sure to discuss the significance of what Colonel Qaddafi may be up to in sub-Saharan Africa in his talks with the government of Ivory Coast, the political heavyweight in French-speaking Africa.
Nigeria has no Tuareg population, but over half of the country's people are Muslims. Colonel Qaddafi -- a zealous Muslim himself, albeit not exactly a fundamentalist of, say, the Khomeini school -- has always seen Muslim communities anywhere in the world as fields where he might spread his influence. Last month, Muslim fundamentalists, reported to be indigent immigrants from Chad , Cameroon, and Niger, were responsible for riots in the big northern Nigerian Muslim city of Kano.
This was not the official reason for Nigeria's move to expel Libyan diplomats from the country. Nigerian authorities said their decision had been taken because the Libyans had announced, without prior consultation with the Nigerian government, that they were turning the Libyan Embassy in Lagos into a "people's bureau," to establish better contacts with the Nigerian people.
After what happened in Kano, this must have had an ominous ring for the Nigerian government -- presided over, incidentally by a northern Muslim, Shehu Shagari.
As for Egypt's concern, President Sadat has long viewed with more contempt than alarm the apparent aim of Colonel Qaddafi to assume the role in Africa, Islam, and the Arab world once aspired to by the late Gamal Abdel Nasser. Mr. Sadat sees in this context Colonel Qaddafi's unsuccessful efforts since 1970 (the year of Nasser's death) to unite his country in turn with Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and -- toward the end of 1980 -- with Syria once again.
If Mr. Sadat is worried now about the Libyan thrust into Chad, it is because it represents a potentially outflanking movement, equipped with Soviet arms, most directly threatening to Sudan. But Sudan can never be considered in isolation from Egypt because of the Nile that links the two countries and keeps both alive. Without the water of the Nile, Egypt simply could not survive.