How the African Sahel could be affected by Tripoli's fall

With Tripoli almost entirely in rebel hands, what will the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, who sometimes brokered peace and sometimes stoked conflict, mean for the countries to Libya’s south?

Yesterday, Libyan rebels entered the capital Tripoli (follow live updates here). With the fall of Col. Muammar Qaddafi seeming nearly complete, many are wondering what comes next for Libya and for the Arab world. Something I’m going to be thinking about (and writing more about) in the coming weeks is the impact of Qaddafi’s fall on the Sahel. Some Sahelian leaders, such as Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade and Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, have been siding with the rebels and anticipating Qaddafi’s ouster for some time. Others, such as Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure, have endeavored to remain neutral. All of them, now, face a new political reality in the region. What will the absence of a once-powerful figure, who sometimes brokered peace and sometimes stoked conflict, mean for the countries that lie to Libya’s south?

In thinking about these questions, I’ve found two pieces particularly helpful. One is the Globe and Mail‘s map of Qadhafi’s influence in Africa in Africa, which highlights the breadth of his influence but also shows that some of his most significant interventions were in the Sahel, in places like Mali, Chad, and Sudan. The other is Howard French’s reflections on Qaddafi’s political legacy and the impact of his maneuvers to support revolutions and rebels in the Sahel and further south in Africa.

As I said, I plan to write in greater depth about Qaddafi and the Sahel in the weeks to come. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts. How will events in Libya affect Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Darfur, and other places in the Sahel? Let us know in the comments.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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