The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands: “Mercenaries” in Libya

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on March 9, 2011

“Mercenaries” in Libya?

A “No Fly Zone” or other UN sanctions do not preclude the Gaddafi regime increasing ground armed forces to extend their control. This could be done by an increased use of “mercenaries”. “Mercenaries” are legally defined broadly as persons motivated by private gain to fight in an armed conflict. They are not affiliated to the armed forces of a party to the conflict, nor of any other state. However, state complicity in the use of “mercenaries” is prevalent in Africa. Their use by the Gaddafi regime may be commonplace following the resignations of top officials from the government, and the defiance of orders by members of the police and army.

Furthermore, the use of “mercenaries” in internal conflicts is common in Africa. However, the quantification of “mercenary” activities is a difficult empirical task. The Gaddafi regime’s access to “mercenaries” may be assured through connections made with non-government armed forces it provided armed training to in Libya, between 1970 and 1980.

To this effect, advertisements have been launched in Kenya and Guinea to recruit pro-Gaddafi fighters. Fighters are purportedly offered approximately US$ 2500 per day or could earn up to US$ 20,000 a month.

A government official from Mali revealed that 200-300 members of the Tuaregs community from its Kidal region left for Libya to join pro-Gaddafi forces. The Tuaregs share a longstanding relationship with the Gaddafi regime, beginning from the formation of the “Islamic Pan African Legion” in the 1970s. Although the Legion was disbanded as an organisation in the 1980s, connections between Libyan officials and the Tuaregs have been maintained.

The Malian government has expressed anxiety but finds difficulty in controlling this exchange. Indeed, persisting conflicts in Africa and poor efforts in demobilising fighters have generated a steady supply of ex-combatants. With limited employment options available to them, these ex-combatants would prefer to use their combat skills for monetary gain.

‘Popular Anger’ Against Sub-Saharan Africans

The use of “mercenaries” is justifiably real to anti-government Libyan protesters and is perceived as state-sponsored violence. However, the retaliation through violence by anti-government protestors on innocent Sub-Saharans has led to their serious victimization. Sub-Saharans are targeted because their countries are dominant suppliers of “mercenaries” within the African continent.

Unfortunately, widespread and indiscriminate targeting of Sub-Saharans is conducted on their identification as “black” and “non-arabic speaking”. Underlying these indiscriminate attacks is the largely unorganised nature of incorporating “mercenaries” into armed offensives by states. This prevents an objective identification of parties to the conflict and their affiliations.

Africans particularly from Chad, Niger, Liberia, Mali and the Central African Republic have been forcibly detained and assaulted by armed mobs, with their homes and shelter camps targets of destruction. The violence has hampered their ability to exit Libya safely. Moreover, the International Organisation for Migration reports that Sub-Saharans are scarce amongst the thousands pouring out of Libyan borders daily.

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands

The hostilities between Libyan anti-government protestors and presumed “mercenaries” are due to a weak culture of accountability for “mercenary” activities. Therefore, the violence perpetrated by anti-government protestors is understandable because there is a vacuum within international and national legal systems in bringing these “mercenaries” to account judicially.


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