Archive for December 2012
LIBYA – A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION TO THE ISLAMIC SENUSSI ORDER – (A WORK IN PROGRESS -06 FEBRUARY 2017)
There are a number of prominent Islamists in the old Libyan province of Cyrenaica, now East Libya. They caused the Gaddafi regime considerable trouble and they have been influential in post-Gaddafi Libya. I argue, though they may profoundly disagree, that they are the heirs to the Islamic Senussi order which exercised a profound influence over the nine Sa’adi tribes of Cyrenaica and supplied the first King of Libya, Sayyid Idris al Senussi, when Libya achieved independence. Without some small knowledge of the Senussi’s and their influence on East Libya much of what is now happening there is not readily understood. There follows a very short introduction to the Senussi Order. There are but few books on the subject. The reader may find Rosita Forbes’ eyewitness account in her book ‘The Secret of the Sahara: Kufra’ interesting reading. What follows is taken from a draft for my book ‘Libya – The History of Gaddafi’s Pariah State’ and is out of context but I hope it proves a useful introduction.
During the Ottoman period, the Sufi Senussi Order was established in Libya. There follows a brief sketch of the life of its founder and some of the history of the Order with especial reference to Libya.
Al-Sayyid Muhammad bin ‘Ali al-Senussi al-Khattabi al Idrisi al-Hasani, now known as the Grand Senussi, was born in about 1787 into a distinguished Algerian family claiming descent from the Prophet Mohammad. He was educated at the famous mosque school at Fez in Morocco where he came under the influence of the Trijaniya Order of dervishes.
He left Fez in his early thirties and travelled the pilgrim way along the coast to Tripoli, Misurata and Benghazi. He had already gathered around him several disciples and went on to Cairo where he intended to study at al-Azhar University but his reforming zeal appears to have alienated many of the Sheikhs as the professors of that august university are known. He found it prudent to decamp to Mecca and remained in the Hejaz for several years.
It was here that he came under the most important spiritual influence of his life in the person of Sayyad Ahmad bin Idris al Fasi, the founder of the Idrisiya Order. Sayyad Ahmad Idrisi was at odds with the leaders of the Maliki rite in Mecca who regraded him as unorthodox. Consequently, he and his disciples went to Zabid in the Yemen, the revered site of a mosque built in the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed and a famous centre of Islamic learning. He was accompanied there by, amongst others, the Grand Senussi.
Sayyad Ahamd Idris died in the Yemen in 1837. The Idrisiya Order was then divided into two sub Orders, the Mirghaniya and the Senussia. It was the latter, the Senussiya, which was organised by the Grand Senussi who moved its head quarters to Mt Abu Quabas near Mecca. It is this event which is regarded as the foundation of the Senussi Order.
The Senussi Order made such spectacular progress the Hejaz that it made the Turkish and the Ulema in Mecca uneasy. The Grand Senussi was accused of dumbing down Sufi standards to suit the harsh simplicity of Bedouin life. This is an accusation which was often to be levelled at the Senussi Order over time.
In the face of mounting criticism, the Grand Senussi with a number of his disciples left the Hijaz in 1841 intending to return to Algeria. He travelled by way of Cairo and stopped for a while in the Oasis of Siwa where he opened a new lodge. It was clear to him that his homeland of Algeria was falling to French colonial ambitions and his mission in the east was out of favour with the authorities in Mecca.
It was thus that Sayyid Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Senussi, found himself taking up residence in Cyrenaica [East Libya], near the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Cyrene. There he found, living amongst the native Bedouin, a number of holy men known as the Marabtin b’il Baraka. Like them, Sayyid Muhammad was an Arabic speaking Sunni Muslim, familiar with Bedouin life. There was also a flourishing cult of saints, the Marabtin, in Cyrenaica and tribes adjusted their annual migration to spend regular periods near the tomb of their patron saint. These tombs are often small square white structures topped by a dome. In my day, one such could be seen from the road from Benghazi to Benina airport with the tents of a visiting section of the al Awaqir tribe pitched nearby. Therefore the Bedouin found nothing unusual when, in 1843, Sayyid Muhammad, known as the Grand Senussi, and his disciples founded a Senussi lodge or ‘Zawia’ at Baida on the central Cyrenaican plateau.
The new lodge was situated at a point where the territories of three important tribes met. Probably the best way to describe a Senussi lodge is an Islamic seminary and community centre. It was made up of a mosque, classrooms, store rooms and living quarters for the head and for the brothers of the order. Senussi lodges were self-sufficient and needed land and water to support the residents and their visitors. In order to attract a lodge into their territory, local tribes had to give up some of their productive wells and arable land to support it. It was, thus, an important step because good land and reliable wells were precious resources in Cyrenaica and not often surplus to requirements.
This is how it worked in practice. When a few tribes applied for a lodge, they received a visit from a member of the Senussi family. Important visitors were always entertained to a feast and displays of wealth. By observing the interplay of personalities and their relative wealth, the Senussi visitor was able to spot the paramount sheik and areas of surplus wealth. They then set up their lodge under his protection and it was he who negotiated their title to arable land and grazing rights. The lodge was constructed where there is sufficient surplus acreage and water and was protected by the most powerful sheik amongst the tribes.
Under pressure from the Ottomans the Grand Senussi moved from Baida to Azziyat. In 1856 Said Ibn Ali founded a Zawia at Jaghbub which was to become a ‘university’ for the Senussi brotherhood. Jaghbub is situated around 280 kilometres south east of Tobruk. It is close to the Libya’s border with Egypt and with Siwa, the oasis town in the Egyptian Western Desert. As an oasis Jaghbub is not well endowed with palm trees and the water is brackish. At first sight it does not seem a promising place for the Grand Senussi to establish his headquarters. However, it was strategically placed amongst feuding tribes which he wished to pacify and convert and its proximity to Siwa was important.
Said Ibn Ali lived for six years in Jaghbub from whence he contiuued his missionary work. He died in 1859 and was buried in a tomb over which rose the kubba of Jaghbub. (According to reports Colonel Gaddafi ordered the destruction of the tomb and had The Grand Senussi’s mortal remains scattered.)
From Jaghbub Said Ibn Ali allied himself with the Zuwaya tribe, whose home is the oasis of Kufra still further to the south. The tribe offered The Grand Senussi one third of its holdings in the Kurfa Oasis if he would establish a lodge there. He commissioned a famous follower called Sidi Omar Bu Hawa to go to Kufra and establish a Zawiah at Jof and to begin missionary work. The Zuwaya traded across the dessert as far south as Chad, Wadai, Darfur and Kano and as far north as Ajadabia. The Grand Senussi’s followers travelled with the Zuwaya trading caravans to establish their missionary lodges.
In the late nineteenth century, the time was ripe for a new burst of missionary energy and the Grand Senussi was so successful that, within his lifetime, a vast theocratic empire was established. It was a missionary empire which stretched westwards into Tripolitania, eastwards into Saudi Arabia and the Western Desert of Egypt and southwards into the oasis towns of the Sahara.
At the height of its power I estimate that there were more than 140 lodges of which 51 were in Cyrenaica, 18 in Tripolitania, 15 in the Fezzan, 20 in Egypt, 16 in Arabia, and 14 in the Sahel reaching as far south as Kano. In the early stages the Order founded lodges amongst the nomadic Cha’amba tribe whose extensive homeland stretched over much of southern Algeria but I am unable at this stage to say how many nor how long they survived.
Islamic orders are a way of life. One of the better known is the Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia, but there are many others. Their aim is to achieve a complete identification with God by means of contemplation, charity, living apart from the everyday world and performing religious exercises. For the Senussi order, this was achieved by the contemplation of the Prophet Muhammad. Followers were urged to imitate the Prophet’s life until he became their sole guide and counsellor. Islam is a Bedouin faith at heart.
To quote the great traveller, Hassnein Bey, who was a rare and now too often forgotten observer of the Senussi order; ‘For his followers (The Grand Senussi) forbade all kinds of luxurious living including the possession of gold and jewellery ‘excepting for the adornment of women’ and the use of tobacco and coffee. He imposed no ritual but demanded a return to the simplest form of Islam to be found in the teaching of the prophet. He was intolerant of any contact with Christians, Jews and those Moslems who, in his view, had strayed from the original meaning of Islam.’
The kinship between the Senussi Order and the modern Salafists is striking. I note here that Islamic scholars such as Dr Yasir Quadi suggest that Salafists acknowledge their debt to Taqī ad-Dīn Aḥmad ibn Taymiyyah the medieval Sunni Muslim theologian and reformer. It is widely held that the same ibn Taymiyyah was the inspiration for both the Wahhabi and the Senussi Orders. Here is Dr Quadi’s current definition of the term Salafi:
‘Within the context of our modern World, or to be more precise over the last half a century, the term ‘Salafī’ has come to designate an Islamic methodology, the aspirational objective of which is the emulation of the Prophetic example via the practices and beliefs of the earliest generations of Islam. This is because the first three Islamic generations, in being closest to the era of Muḥammad and the period of revelation, are understood to best embody the Prophetic Sunnah, and thus a pristine Islam.’
It is easy to see that what the Prophet Muhammad taught the Bedouin of Saudi Arabia in the seventh century was well suited to the Bedouin of Cyrenaica, who still led much the same lives in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its clear and simple principles, to do good, avoid evil and pray regularly, were appealing to a tough nomadic and semi-nomadic people who lived in tents and followed their flocks in a quest for water and grazing.
The Senussi order was a success in Cyrenaica because, as the great anthropologist E. E Evans-Pritchard once wrote: “(the Bedouin) need was for some authority lying outside their segmental tribal system which could compose intertribal or intersectional disputes and bind the tribes and tribal sections within an organisation and under a common symbol.” It was also helpful that the Turkish occupiers of Libya were largely confined to the coastal towns and lacked the arms and will to destroy it.
Many years later, during the Italian occupation of Cyrenaica, the Senussi order was given a new lease of life and became almost politicised. The Italians found it impossible to deal with the many powerful and independent tribal sheiks. They found it easier, as did the British after WWII, to deal with the head of the order, Sayyid Idris, who was to become the King of an independent Libya.
The Ikwan lived in lodges built within the tribal homelands and held prayer meetings there. The Ikhwan were missionaries in the true sense of the word and they lived cheerfully and dressed well. They were self-supporting, growing their own food and herding their own animals. Thus, they avoided living on charity. The ordinary unschooled Bedouin, Muntasabin, had little knowledge of the inner rituals and special prayers of the order, but they gave their personal loyalty to the sheikhs or leaders of the lodges in their territory. The Cyranaican Bedouin lived austere lives and thus the clear and unequivocal message of the Senussi Order suited them well, as it did their ancesters in the Nejd.
The Grand Senussi aimed to establish the conditions which would allow the Bedouin to live by their own laws and govern themselves, an aspiration which has recently plunged Libya into civil war. The Grand Senussi remained in Libya for only a few years. One of his sons, Sayyid Mohamed al Mahdi, who succeeded him, moved his headquarters to Kufra in 1895 and thence further south to Qiru in Chad in 1899. Some none too reliable estimates suggest that when Sayyid al Mahdi came to power there were between one and a half million and three million people who owed allegiance to the order.
Sayyid Mohamed al Mahdi was a charismatic and inspiring Muslim and leader, who was both a scholar and a soldier. Under his leadership the Senussi gained effective commercial and political control of the whole eastern half of the Sahara. His power became so great that during the First World War , with Turkish and also German support, he raised the tribes in his territory against the Allies in the First Senussi War but was defeated by the Italians and left Libya by German submarine in 1918.
The French, who were advancing there sphere of influence to Chad, were less than hospitable to the Senussi Order, so the Grand Senussi’s third successor, Sayyid Ahmad al Sheriff, moved his headquarters back to Kufra, in order to retain control of the Wadai to Benghazi slave trade route.
The Italian occupation of Libya, which commenced in 1911, entered an aggressive phase during Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Then Italians colonists launched a campaign of ‘re-conquest’. They began to pacify the defiant tribes with no little brutality.
Organised resistance by the tribes was impossible so they pursued a classical guerrilla war where Italian sentries were shot, supply columns ambushed, and communications interrupted. There was a succession of small actions and acts of sabotage in different parts of the country. At first the Italians responded by courting the favour of those tribes, or parts of tribes, near the towns. By offering employment, subsidies and arms, they hoped to turn them against the rebels. In their minds there were two types of tribe, the sottomessi, that is the submitted, and the rebelli. They thought they had gained the loyalty of the sottomessi to support them against the rebelli. They were to be constantly disappointed. The sottomessi supplied arms, ammunition, food, intelligence, shelter and funds to the rebelli. Sometimes the tribal sheiks would arrange amongst themselves who would submit and who would take the field.
To their consternation, the Italians had overlooked or misinterpreted, as many do, the powerful Bedouin law. The nine Sa’adi tribes of East Libya and their clients were all Bedouin, jealous of each other and hostile to tribes other than their own. The males of each tribe were duty-bound to avenge a slain kinsman. The group of males within the tribe who shoulder this collective responsibility is called the amara dam. The other side of this coin is the duty to protect and aid a living kinsman. This is at the root of Bedouin values. The common ancestry and the kinship of the Sa’adi tribes overrode the lesser demands. The tribes were united by blood, Islam and a common way of life against the Italians.
As the Italian proconsul Graziani wrote of the Second Senussi War. “The entire population thus took part directly or indirectly in the rebellion.” However the guerrilla war was led by some notable families who have received less attention than they deserve. They were the Abbar and the Kizzih of the Awaquir, the Saif al Nasr of the Aulad Suliman, the Bu Baker bu Hadduth of the Bara’asa, the Lataiwish of the Magharba, the Abdalla of the Abaidat, the Asbali of the Arafa, the Suwaikir and the Ilwani of the Abid and the Bu Khatara bu Halaiqua of the Hasa. The homelands of the tribes which these families led stretched from the desert south of the present city of Sirte to the Marmarica in the east around the city of Tobruk. All of this territory was ideal for guerrilla warfare.
The tribal leaders were formidable but they needed the coordinating hand of a leader. They found it in the person of Omar Mukhtar who brought not only his considerable energy and talents into the field but also the network of Senussi lodges and intelligent personnel stretched throughout the tribal homelands. The Islamic Senussi order had for a long time planted seminaries amongst the Bedouin tribes of Eastern Libya. They were staffed by a leader or sheik and a band of the Ikwan (brothers) who educated the young and gave religious and practical leadership.
In the Senussi sheik, Omar Mukhtar, they had a leader who, though he was more than sixty, was an experienced soldier, a talented tactician with an almost unique ability to keep the peace between the fractious tribal detachments which he commanded, perhaps because of his Bedouin birth. His parents were members of a Minifa (Marabtin al-sadqan) tribe from the Marmarica. Between 1912 and 1931 he planned all the gruella operations, gathered and evaluated the intelligence, organised the logistics and finance and led a band of his own.
The Italians response grew more heavy handed as the war progressed. They found that the sottomessi were supplying the rebellei, so they commenced by disarming the non-combatant tribesmen. They went on to harsher methods to stop the flow of rebel volunteers, ammunition and weapons, money and food from the sottomessi. They used the well tried methods of arrests, restricting civilian movements, deportations, aerial bombardment and strafing of recalcitrant tribes. They blocked and poisoned desert wells, confiscated precious livestock and barbed wire was liberally strewn around to restrict the seasonal migrations. The rate of executions was alarming but it was in concentration camps that the sottomessi who were much depleted in health, morale and numbers.
They went after the Senussi lodges, destroying them and deporting their leaders. They captured Omar Mukhtar in September 1931 when he was ambushed near Baida. He was wounded in an arm. His horse was shot and pinned him to the ground. He was taken prisoner and tried in a hurry. The Italians made a spectacle of his final moments. He was hanged at a place called Suluq before an audience of 20,000 Libyans assembled there by their colonial masters. The rebellion was ended. A number of tribal leaders attempted to escape to Egypt.
The logistical problems posed by the huge distance and lack of fodder and water from the Italian bases on the Mediterranean coast meant that the Senussi theocracy based in Kufra was for many years beyond their reach. What is more the Italians became embroiled in World War I and had little time or resources with which to mount an attack on Kufra, protected as it was by distance and an arc of impassable sand seas.
The Grand Senussi’s fourth and last successor was Sayyid Muhammad al Idris who was destined to become King of Libya when it became fully independent.
In 1920 the Italians, still unable to move against him, adopted the pragmatic policy of appointing the future King of Libya, Mohamed Idris es Senussi, Emir of Cyrenaica with his capital at Ajdabiya and his impregnable stronghold in the Kufra oasis. In so doing the Italians began the process of politicising the Senussi hierarchy. It will be seen later this was furthered by the British during WWII.
In 1931 the Italians had built up their sufficient strength to project their power across the desert and they attacked Kufra and brutally killed the Senussi supporters there. Sayyid Idris went into exile in Egypt.
The fortunes of Sayyid Idris, the Senussi Emir in exile in Egypt, were improved by the strange and somewhat delusional act of war by Benito Mussolini. He had thrown in his lot with A. Hitler and declared war against the Allies on 10th June 1940. On 13th September 1940 he moved his 10th Army across the Libyan border into Egypt. He did so in the hope of expanding his North Africa empire when the Germans completed their seemingly inevitable conquest of Great Britain and thus her subsequent departure from the de facto occupation of Egypt. Hitler seemed unstoppable. It was, therefore, very brave, even foolhardy, for Sayyed Idris to tie Libya’s fortunes to those of Great Britain at that dark time in her history.
In October 1939, when it seemed certain the Italy would invade Egypt some prominent Libyan sheikhs living in exile in Egypt met in Alexandria and formally recognised Sayyid Idris as their Emir. They informed the British ambassador that Sayyid Idris could speak for them in future negotiations. This was the first step in the long and difficult journey of Sayyid Idris, the head of the Sufi Senussi Order, from temporal to political power as King of Libya.
Following Italy’s declaration of war the Libyan Sheiks met again to hear Sayyid Idris make an impassioned appeal for the Libyans to fight with the British against the Italian. The sheiks, mostly Cyrenaicans incidentally, decided to form a Libyan Force to fight alongside the British Army in the Western Desert of Egypt. The Libyan Arab Force was raised from Libyans who had fled the Italian brutalities in Libya or who had deserted from the Italian Army. Its officers were a mixture of Libyan notables and British expatriates living in Egypt who were grated their commissions by the Emir, Sayyid Idris. This is generally recognised as the birth of the Libyan Army of today.
From this brief sketch of the foundation and spread of the Senussi Order, it will be clear that it penetrated rapidly from its first foundation lodge near Baida, mainly via the slave trading routes from Kufra to the Sudan, Chad, Mali and Northern Nigeria. It was pushed out of the Sahel states by the French. However, its firm hold on the nine Sa’adi tribes in Cyrenaica was to give it a key role in modern Libya.
Books by John Oakes: For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Update 31st December 2012
The Libyan government commemorates of Battle of Kufra http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/19/1931-battle-of-kufra-commemorated/
In Benghazi, Libya’s second city, senior police and military personnel are being summarily executed by persons unknown. Still unresolved is the killing of US Ambassador Stephens, an event which upset the American people and which left a blemish on the career of Secretary Hillary Clinton. The killing was probably indented to provoke an attack on Libya by the US. The US wisely restrained its more hawkish leaders and acted with commendable, though clearly pained, restraint. However, someone in Benghazi is seeking to paralyse the rule of law. There is talk of a Benghazi hit list and fear of retribution has silenced the people.
At last the democratically elected government under prime minister Dr Ali Zeidan has commenced to get a grip on events and the new interior minister, Ashour Shuwail, has set out his priorities, at the top of which is his intention to stop the Benghazi killings and find and punish the perpetrators.
Benghazi is a fiercely independent city but its people do not deserve the dreadful events which have marred recent months. They have given much for the future of Libya. The city was cordially hated by Gaddafi who neglected it in favour of his home town of Sirte. Despite (or because of) this it was Benghazi people who first had the courage to defy the Gaddafi regime and risk all to fight for a democratic government, a free press and an end to the repression and fear. Unless the security situation is resolved the wealth which is the right of its citizens will be denied them. Diplomats will avoid the city and normal commerce will be curtailed. Eastern Libya needs investment and its infrastructure is in critical need of repair and restoration.
The interior minster’s second priority is to bring the revolutionary militias into the government fold, either by disbanding them or absorbing them into the state police or the military. Benghazi and Eastern Libya has some notably recalcitrant militias amongst which are Ansar al Sharia commanded by Mohammed Zahawi, Rafallah al Sahati commanded by Mohammed al Gharabi and the Zawia Martyr’s brigade. These militias were apparently curtailed, or at least restrained, following the ‘Save Benghazi’ rally on Friday 21st September when hundreds of demonstrators arrived at the Salafist Ansar Al-Sharia militia headquarters in Benghazi’s Nasr square demanding the brigade leave immediately. Even so, they still appear to exercise a malign and undemocratic influence.
There are signs of resolve and competence in the new Libyan government.
Update 21st December 2012
This from the Libya Herald shows how urgent the matter of security in Benghazi has become.
Update 6th January 2013
At last some progress.
Update 9th January 2013
A very interesting piece – worth following up:
Update 25th January 2103
US and UK citizens urged to leave Benghazi and news of a threat to Libyan oil instillations. Benghazi’s British School teachers elect to stay but are watchful:
Update 23rd February 2013
This from the Libya Herald gives us some idea of how difficult it is to police Benghazi at the moment. A new police chief has been appointed and let us hope he can handle the situation.
Update 29th March 2013
The alleged sexual assault of British Citizens in Benghazi is disturbing. We await the reaction of Libyan women to this event with interest. Read these:
Update 9th June 2013
Reports of a very serious incident in Benghazi today.
Update 26th November 2013
Serious clashes in Benghazi:
Ansar al Sharia’s Derna units attempt to move to Benghazi but are stopped by Libyan government forces:
Ansar al Sharia forces from Ajdabia reported to have attempted to join the Benghazi fight.
Libya-The Tebu of Kufra, Sebha and Muzuq; A black people in search of a nationality. Updated 30th April 2014
‘A delegation of some 36 Tebu representatives arrived in Tripoli on Tuesday 27th November 2012 to press the new Libyan government and the General National Congress on citizenship and civil rights issues for their people.’ Who are the Tebu and why are they important?
The Libyan region in which the Tebu live is rich in oil and underground water which, via the Great Man Made River, is piped to the coast where an estimated 90 per cent of Libya’s population live. It is also prime territory for illicit trade, with government-subsidised fuel and food smuggled out of the country in return for weapons, drugs, alcohol and migrants. The fall of Gaddafi triggered a minor war for control of the border trade between the black Tebu residents of Kufra, Sebha and Muzuq and the white Arab tribes – the Zawiya, the Awlad Suleiman and the Warfella.
There are visible signs of discrimination against the Tebu. For example, at Kufra a wall built by the Arab Zawiya tribe encircles the small town and traffic funnels through a guarded entrance. The Zawiya are in charge of Kufra’s government, military council, the commercial centre and small airport. The minority Tebu people live in shacks surrounded by rubbish heaps in the ghetto communities of Gadarfai and Shura. They are cordoned off by checkpoints monitored by the Libyan army.
Speaking in Tripoli to the editor of the Libya Herald on 27th November the Tebu military leader, Essa Abdul Majid Mansour, pointed out that fighting in Kufra between the majority Sway [al Zawiya] tribesman and minority Tebu clans had resulted in a number of deaths. He said that relations between the Sway and the Tebu were still tense and there was an urgent need for a government delegation to go to Kufra to achieve some form of settlement, otherwise matters will get worse. “There is already smuggling of weapons to Al-Qaeda groups outside the country, as well as drugs being brought into Libya. A main issue [for the Tebu] is the question of citizenship.”
The problem for the Tebus stemmed from Libya’s 1954 citizenship law when traditionally semi-nomadic tribes lacked identification, denying them access to higher education, skilled jobs, housing and health care. Michel Cousins of the Libya Herald writes ‘Large numbers of Tebus were stripped of their citizenship by Gaddafi in 2009 following a Tebu uprising the previous year, itself the result of persecution by the regime. There were forced evictions and demolition of Tebu homes. Because of it, the Tebu joined last year’s revolution from the very beginning. Officials say that there are some 12,000-15,000 Libyan Tebus. However, Essa Abdul Majid Mansour claims that there are at least 200,000 who are now stateless, having been stripped of their citizenship.’
The Tebu people of Kufra, Sebha and Muzuq are part of a wider ethnic group called the Teda, desert warriors living in the eastern and central Sahara and, effectively, a black people without nationality. The majority of them can be found in the Tibesti Mountains on the Libyan-Chad border. Their harsh environment, extreme poverty, and remote location make them a very tough people. They have often clashed with the neighbouring tribes and with the Tuareg and, like the gypsies in Great Britain, are despised by the dominant communities who see them as petty thieves and liars.
Traditionally, the Teda controlled the caravan trade routes that passed through their territory. They were widely known in the past for plundering and salve trading. Their language is Tebu and their basic social unit is the nuclear family, organized into clans. They live by a combination of pastoralism, farming, substance smuggling and date cultivation.
In Libya the Tebu people of Kufra have long been marginalised. For many years, Gaddafi’s people pursued a program of ‘arabiseation’ which effectively meant the persecution of the Tebu as this report by the Human Rights Council makes clear: “Some 4,000 Toubou [Tebu] people are living in the town of Kufra, an oasis city of 44,000 inhabitants some 2,000 kilometres from Tripoli. In the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya [Gaddafi’s Libya], they were treated as foreigners by the authorities. In December 2007, the Libyan Government withdrew citizenship from members of the Toubou group, stating that they were not Libyans but Chadians. Furthermore the local authorities issued decrees barring Toubou from access to education and health care services. The armed movement “Front for the Salvation of the Toubou Libyans” …. opposed these measures. Up to 33 people died in Kufra, during five days of fighting between the official security forces and the Toubou in November 2008. Despite public criticism, the government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya [continued] to expel Toubou people from their residential areas in Kufra. Since November 2009 dozens of families lost their homes due to forced destruction by bulldozers supervised by state security forces.”
The hostility between the black Tebu people and the white al Zawiya tribe has long been endemic in Kufra and has escalated into open warfare since the heavy hand of the Gadaffi regime was lifted after the 2011 civil war. Traditionally practicing nomadic pastoralism of sheep and camels in a triangular area with its apex at Ajadabia, the Zawiya conquered Kufra, in 1840, subduing the indigenous Tebu. The Zawiya tribe owns most of the date palm groves of the Kufra oases, employing the Tebu tribesmen as labourers. The Zawiya might not be the biggest tribe in Libya, but they are still a considerable force because of the vast size of its homeland. Its members are spread out across the areas around the oil export facilities on the Gulf of Sidra to the interior regions around the oil deposits, as well as the Kufra oasis. The Zawiya are known as a fierce and xenophobic tribe and they intend to control the trade, legal and illegal, that passes through the Kufra oasis complex.
On the 23rd of February 2012, the Jamestown Foundation published its report entitled “The Battle for Kufra Oasis and the On-going War in Libya”. It states, in part: “An escalating tribal conflict in the strategic Kufra Oasis has revealed once more that Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) is incapable of restoring order in a nation where political and tribal violence flares up on a regular basis, fuelled by a wave of weapons liberated from Qaddafi’s armouries. Though this is hardly the first clash between the African Tebu and the Arab Zawiya tribe that took control of the oasis from the Tebu in 1840, it is certainly the first to be fought with heavy weapons such as RPGs and anti-aircraft guns, an innovation that is reflected in the various estimates of heavy casualties in the fighting. Fighting began on February 12 and has continued to the present [22nd February]. Well over 100 people have been killed in less than two weeks; with many hundreds more wounded (Tripoli Post, February 22).”
Essa Abdul Majid Mansour told Michel Cousins; ‘The stability of Libya depends on the stability of the south and the stability of the south depends on the stability of the Tebu. The stability of the Tebu also affects Europe, he added, referring to the need to secure Libya’s southern borders to prevent sub-Saharan migrants using the country as a gateway across the Mediterranean to Europe.’ He may well be right.
For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Update 18th December 2012. There is some hope at last! Read this:
Update 19th December 2012
This is part of an article in the Libya Herald which throws an interesting new light on this complex problem:
‘According to immigration officials, an estimated 40,000 non-Libyans, the majority of them Africans, were granted Libyan nationality during last year’s uprising in exchange for their support for the Qaddafi regime. As part of a broader power-struggle, some Arab tribes have exploited this situation, branding the black African Tebu, many of whom supported last year’s revolution, as part of the problem.’
Read the full article:
Update 8th January 2013
An interesting interview from the Tebu point of view:
Update 9th January 2013
Inter-tribal killings continue:
Update 15th January 2013
An excellent in depth piece about the Tebu and Libya’s south;
Update 14th February
News of attempts to reconcile the Zawiya and the Tebu in Kufra. The attachment to the Senussi sect is invoked:
Update 10 April 2013
Reports of more killing in Kufra despite the cease fire:
In contrast this next is an outstanding and sympathetic report about the Tebu and deserve a wider audience.
Update 29th May 2013
The Tebu’s are now blockading one of Libya’s major oil fields. They have a list of grievances. See the flowing piece in the Libya Herald;
Update 21st June 2013
A detailed and well written piece from the Libya Herald on the situation in Sothern Libya where fears that a terrorist group has set up shop are growing;
Update 3rd July 2013
News that Tebu protesters have shut down the ‘Elephant’ oil field west of Muzuk:
Update 20th July 2013
The Tebu, Tuareg and Berber minorities in Libya have protested that they are under-represented on the Congressional Constitution committee and have threatened to take direct action. The Tebu action in the ‘Elephant’ oil field is already affecting Libya’s oil exports.
See this in the Libya Herald:
Update 17th March 2014
The Tebu of Kufra still appear to be threatened by the majority Sway.
Update 30th April 2014
These pieces brings the issue of the Tebu and of minority rights in Libya up to date:
There are numerous analyses of the current problems in Mali. I have argued elsewhere that one of the unforeseen consequences of the civil war in Libya was to catalyse the Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali and that al Qaeda franchises muscled in on the act to assume control. My piece in this blog called ‘The Libyan Civil War – Some Consequences for Children’ was, in fact, a draft paper for the ‘War Child Journal’ and was written with a narrow focus – that of bringing the plight of children in the Sahel to a wider readership.
Amongst that interesting blogs on the subject of Mali is ‘Crossed Crocodiles’ and I suggest that the following might be interesting reading:
Whatever we might think about the underlying cause, some are predicting a ‘Somalia’ in the Sahel.
I am aware that there are numerous differences between Mali and Somalia. It is facile to compare the two but I would respectfully draw attention to the UNHCR data on Somalia and Mali.
There are an estimated 1,022,856 refugees from the long running problems, largely caused by the Al Qaeda franchise Al Shabaab, in Somalia. So far the UNHCR estimate that there are 211,645 refugees who have fled the crisis in Mali which is but a few months old. The possibility of it spreading to Algeria, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and more is a nightmare we must all share.
For data on refugees from Somalia read:
….and from northern Mali:
Update 9th January 2013
This is worth following up
Update 11th January 2013
France enters the fray;
Update 13th January 2013
A useful guide to Mali’s armed groups:
Update 14th January 2013
Some good words on why France intervened:
Update 17th January 2013
Some background to the attack on the BP gas facility in Algeria carried out by an al Qaeda franchise – apparently because of the French intervention in Mali.
Update 18th December 2013
Some interesting comments about the BP gas facility. Did the terrorists enter Algeria from Libya?
Update 23rd January 2013
A balanced piece on the nature of the al Qaeda in Mali, the French intervention and the UK Prime Minister’s assertions about the threat as a whole.
……and the confusion about where the terrorists came from continues:
Update 27th January 2013
This is a very well researched piece about crime and al Qaeda in Mali and its neighbours\:
Update 1st February 2013
This report from Mali should be read widely.
Update 11th February 2013
Reports of an al Qaeda training camp in Mali
Update 14th February 2013
The al Qaeda ‘cuckoo’ caught in the process of laying its egg in the Tuareg nest. The plan to take over in Mali revealed:
Update 2nd March 2013
Al Qaeda leader probably killed by Chadian forces in Mali
Update 3rd March 2013
More on the possible killing of the al Qaeda leader by Chadian forces
Update 3rd May 2013
Interesting news about drug smuggling routes and al Qaeda.
Update 21st June 2013
Latest developments in Mali discussed by experts in this al Jazeera piece.
To alert a wider readership to some of the consequences for children of the recent civil war in Libya and its repercussions in the Sahel.
The intervention by NATO and Qatar in 2011 on behalf of the anti-Gadaffi National Transition Council was successful in achieving regime change in Libya. The demise of the dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, was greeted with acclaim in the west. However his rule had been both cruel and powerful and his fall left Libya without a civic society and, in particular, a respected police force and an effective army. The country has since been dominated by armed militias which were originally raised to fight Gadaffi’s forces and have not been disbanded.
Gaddafi purchased huge quantities of arms and ammunition which were stored in depots around the country. After his fall these depots were looted and some arms illegally exported to neighbouring countries. The Libyan militias are now armed with tanks and heavy weapons. The use of landmines by Gaddafi’s forces has been excessive and there are areas in Libya and neighbouring Chad which are now extremely hazardous.
Gaddafi’s ‘Arabiseation’ policy resulted in the suppression the Berber minority in Libya’s western Jebel Nefusa and the black Tebu people of the south. Intertribal ‘revenge’ skirmishes between Arab tribes and these minority peoples have become endemic since the regime change.
Gaddafi used Tuaregs as mercenaries, arming them and hardening them in battle. They have returned to their homelands bearing arms and are pursuing their ambitions with not a little violence. They have joined the Al Qaeda franchises and criminal gangs in the bad lands of northern Mali to create a potential ‘Somalia’ which has a destabilising influence in Niger, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and possibly Nigeria.
Gaddafi used African mercenaries from Chad and other sub-Saharan states in the recent civil war. Until the civil war began nationals of Chad, Niger and the Sudan were the most numerous and settled migrants in Libya. Since his regime fell many fled under difficult circumstances and black migrants and black Libyan nationals have been imprisoned and ill-treated on the grounds that they might be ex mercenaries. Lately the accusations of being mercenaries have been replaced by allegations of witchcraft, spreading AIDs or public drunkenness.
Libya’s borders, especially in the south, are very long and difficult to control. They have always been porous and are now even more so, resulting in ill-controlled smuggling of arms, alcohol, drugs and people.
Gadaffi’s personalised foreign policy was focussed on achieving dominance in Africa and to that end he purchased personal power within the African Union. He acted as both a protagonist and mediator in the internal and external disputes of neighbouring countries, especially the Sudan and Chad. He waged an unsuccessful war against Chad between 1980 and 1987 and eventually exercised unprecedented influence over its affairs. It became a virtual client state. The effect of the loss of the Gaddafi regime’s extensive investments in the Sahel countries has yet to be analysed.
THE LIBYAN MILITIAS
On the 17th February 2013 Libyans will celebrate the second anniversary of the Benghazi uprising which triggered the fall of Gaddafi. As they do so they may feel that their new leaders have been too slow to control the numerous revolutionary militias formed during the civil war and have yet to disband. The militiamen argue that they fought to topple Gaddafi and are entitled to say who runs their country. Since they are heavily armed, some with artillery and tanks, they easily assert their authority because the regular army was weakened and there is no real police force. What is more, the Gaddafi regime had destroyed civic society and outlawed political parties.
The capital, Tripoli, is a case in point. There are at least seven armed militias controlling the city, one of which is led by the sometime Islamist fighter, Abdul Hakim Belhadj. The leader of another group, Abdullah Ahmed Naker, recently claimed to have 22,000 armed men at his disposal and that his forces already controlled of 75 per cent of the capital, whereas Belhadj could only call on 2,000 armed supporters.
A notable militia is from the town of Zintan. It is this militia which captured Gaddafi’s favourite son, Saif el Islam. He is still incarcerated in Zintan, apparently without access to a lawyer. Berbers from the Gebel Nefusa also maintain a militia in Tripoli. Clearly they intend to see that the Berbers, long suppressed by Gaddafi, are not marginalised in the new Libya.
The provisional Libyan government seems to have abandoned its third largest city, Misurata, to its militias of which there are thought to be 170 or so. The strongest is probably the Hablus Brigade which still has 500 militiamen at its disposal. The Misuratans appear to control a region stretching from the east of Tripoli to Sirte, Gaddafi’s old home town.
Some of the militias have been accused of mistreating suspected Gaddafi loyalist. There may have been torture, extrajudicial executions and rape of both men and women. Armed militias are still holding as many prisoners suspected of being Gaddafi loyalists or mercenaries in detention centres around the country.
THE CHILDREN OF DISPLACED PEOPLE IN LIBYA
AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT
Chad and Niger, situated at the southern border of Libya, share a large stretch of desert with Libya, making any journey across the border a difficult and dangerous endeavour. Even so, as the civil war developed, many sub-Saharan migrants fled across the border bad lands. When Tripoli fell, the returning migrants found the route blocked at Sebha in southern Libya. Other were arrested and detained arbitrarily. There was also a substantial flow of escaping sub-Saharan migrants who attempted to reach Europe via Tunis, Algeria and Egypt.
Amnesty International and the press have published witness statements about the atrocities committed against migrants of sub-Saharan origin in Libya. One report entitled ‘Children raped in front of families’ carried by the British Chanel 4 News needs corroborating and thus is to be read with due caution: “Families who fled some of the bitterest fighting in Libya have told Save the Children that children as young as eight, have been sexually assaulted in front of family members. One group of mothers said girls had been held for four days and raped, after which they have been unable to speak. Other children said they saw their fathers killed before them and their mothers raped.
Michael Mahrt, Save the Children’s Child Protection Advisor, said: “The reports of sexual violence against children are unconfirmed but they are consistent and were repeated across the four camps we visited…..Children told us they have witnessed horrendous scenes. Some said they saw their fathers murdered and mothers raped. They described things happening to other children but they may have actually happened to them and they are just too upset to talk about it – it’s a typical coping mechanism used by children who have suffered such abuse…..What is most worrying is that we have only been able to speak to a limited number of children – what else is happening to those who are trapped in Misurata and other parts of the country who do not have a voice?” Save the Children is calling for the international community to ensure that all parties respect children’s right to be protected from violence and abuse. The charity is urgently scaling up its child protection work in Benghazi including training social workers to provide children with psycho-social support [1 ].
A NOTE ADDED ON 28TH FEBRUARY 2017
The breakdown of law and order since 2011 has resulted in increased numbers of children being maltreated by criminal people traffickers in Libya.
LIBYA -THE MISURATANS AND THE BLACK TRIBE OF TAWERGHA
In Libya today, Tawergha is a ghost town 38 kilometres from Misurata on the road to Sirte. In August of 2011, Misuratan militias broke out of the brutal siege of their city by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and attacked their neighbours in Tawergha on whom the late dictator had once lavished money and favour. Accused of crimes against Misuratan civilians during the civil war siege, all 35,000 or so residents of Tawergha fled and their town was systematically looted and destroyed by vengeful Misuratans. (Gadaffi’s forces had laagered in Tawergha whilst conducting the siege of Misurata and some of the young men of the town joined them in the fighting. Accusations of rape have been levied at them, though not yet substantiated.)
Tawergha was mostly populated with black Libyans, a legacy of its 19th-century origins as a transit town in the trans-Saharan slave trade route. Now, on the gates of many of the deserted and vandalized homes Misuratans have scrawled the words “slaves” and “negroes.” (John Wright in his book, The Trans Saharan Slave Trade, suggests that Misurata may have survived as a quiet, unmolested, slaving centre until the very end of the 19th century, though how the descendants of slaves came to form a community 38 kilometres southeast of Misurata and survive as a clan or tribe for so many years is a mystery.)
There are disturbing allegations circulating in the media. For example, Sam Dagher of the Wall Street Journal reported on 18th September 2011 that Mahmoud Jibril, the Libyan National Transitional Council Prime Minister, made this statement at a public meeting at the Misurata town hall: “Regarding Tawergha, my own viewpoint is that nobody has the right to interfere in this matter except the people of Misurata.”…..“This matter can’t be tackled through theories and textbook examples of national reconciliation like those in South Africa, Ireland and Eastern Europe.” Sam Dagher himself witnessed the burning of more than a dozen homes in the town
Temporary sites for displaced Tawergha have grown up and still remain. The UHCR reports that some 20,000 of them have been registered in sites in Tripoli, Benghazi, Tarhouna and other smaller towns across the country. Another 7,000 Tawerghans were discovered in the south, near the town of Sebha. There must be some who remain unaccounted for – either staying with relatives or friends or hiding in the desert, afraid to emerge.
According to a report in the Libya Herald dated 8th November 2012 about eleven thousand displaced Tawergha people are currently in seven camps in Benghazi where the unsanitary conditions are aggravated by rain and cold. Concern is growing that Tawergha children are the victims of discrimination as schools and universities are refusing to accept them.
The Libyan Herald report also states that Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the former president of the National Transitional council, and interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim Al-Kib told the Tawerghans that it is still not the right time for them to return to their town since the authorities are not yet in a position to guarantee their safety. Their future is bleak. Today the vandalised town of Tawergha is surrounded by armed militiamen from Misurata. They are tasked to ensure that no one returns. For them Tawergha no longer exists [2 ].
LIBYA – THE NEFUSA MOUNTAINS
The internal displacement of whole groups of people is still taking place. The advances of anti-Gadaffi forces in the Nefusa Mountains south of Tripoli led to the displacement of some 17,000 members of the Mashashya tribe, which was granted land around the town of Al Awiniya by Gadaffi in the 1970s. Although some members of this tribe held their ground they remain under threat of expulsion. A further 6,000 members of the Gualish tribe were also displaced from land they had traditionally occupied in a tribal conflict with the Kikla people. A number of smaller and often short-term waves of displacement have resulted from local disputes have flared up in the south and west of the country [ 3].
THE SAHEL COUNTRIES – CHILDREN AND THE SECONDARY EFFECT OF THE LIBYAN CIVIL WAR
MALI – THE TUAREGS, Al QAEDA AND ANSAR DINE
‘Northern Mali has imploded from a mix of poverty, drought, guns, corruption, marginalisation – and destabilisation following the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi – while the primary vector of this chaos remains the long-suffering Tuareg populace……….’ May Ling Welsh [ 4]
Gaddafi was drawn to the Tauregs, the so called Blue Men of the Sahara, and he spent much treasure and effort interfering in their affairs. He recruited large numbers of them into his army and they fought for him in Chad and during the recent civil war in Libya. His demise has left them without a sponsor and ally, albeit an erratic one. They are a nomadic people whose homeland is in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Libya. It is difficult to be accurate but I suspect that they number at least 3 million. The Tuareg of Niger amounted to nearly 1.8 million in 1998. The Azawad region of Mali harboured 1.5 million in 1991. Algeria had under a million in the late 1980s. There is also a small population near the Nigerian city of Kano whilst Libya was home to nearly 20,000. [ 5].
Mali is a big, landlocked country much of which is the home to some large Tuareg groups who live their unique nomadic life in its vast desert and whose origin is a mystery and customs warlike. They had been conducting a rebellion against the Mali government of President Amadou Toumani Toure based in the largely Christian south.
Two events led to further discord. On 22nd March 2012 a military coup by the western trained Mali army deposed President Toure because he was not dealing effectively with the Tuareg rebellion. The military handed over power to a civilian government but were destabilise at a crucial time leaving a power vacuum. The Tuareg rebels, now stiffened and heavily armed by Gaddafi’s sometime mercenaries, took advantage and grabbed control of the province of Anzawad, an area in the north of Mali nearly as large as France.
There were others lurking in the background ready to piggyback on the Tuareg rebellion. Amongst them were men of an al Qaeda franchise called Ansar Dine. Its name means “Defenders of the Faith” and its followers embrace a puritanical form of Islam known as Salafism.
Ansar Dine muscled in on the Tuareg separatists and together they declared an independent Islamic state in Northern Mali. However they were uneasy bedfellows. At first Ansar Dine’s turbaned fighters gained a reputation for keeping order after outbreaks of looting. When they started enforcing strict sharia law they earned hostility from locals in Timbuktu and Gao who practised a more tolerant style of Islam.
In June 2012, the Movement for Jihad and Unity in West Africa (MUJAO), another al-Qaeda linked group with Algerian connections, took control of the headquarters of the Tuareg separatists in northern Mali. The Mali government has so far been powerless to act against them and are currently seeking outside assistance. [ 6].
The Al Qaeda franchise in the region immediately took advantage of the opportunity to assume power in Northern Mali with disastrous consequences for the region. UNHCR has reported that 34,977 Malians escaped to Burkina Faso, 108,942 fled to Mauritania and 58,312 went to Niger. Some 118,000 Malians have been internally displaced, 35,300 of them in the regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. [7 ].
CHILD SOLDIERS IN MALI
On 17th August 2012 a UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva stated: “UNICEF is raising the alarm over recruitment of children in northern Mali. UNICEF has received credible reports that armed groups in the north are increasingly recruiting and using children. Increasing numbers of boys are being used for military purposes – as fighters, porters, cooks and for patrols. While it is difficult to establish precise figures, reliable sources have stated that the numbers involved are in the hundreds and appear to be escalating. UNICEF is calling on all parties to the conflict as well as leaders and community members, to make sure that children are protected from the harmful impact of armed conflict and do not participate in hostilities”. [8 ] …… UNICEF also warned of the deteriorating conditions in northern Mali, where the malnutrition rate is among the highest in the country. “Islamists who seized control of part of Mali are amassing money from ransoms and drug trafficking while imposing Sharia law, says a senior UN official. They are also buying child soldiers, paying families $600 (£375) per child”. (Ivan Simonovic (UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights) said after a fact-finding visit to the country).” 
Many residents of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao regions told Human Rights Watch that they saw children inside apparent training camps of the Islamist armed groups. They also observed children as young as 11 years manning checkpoints, conducting foot patrols, riding around in patrol vehicles, guarding prisoners, enforcing Sharia law, and cooking for rebel groups. One witness described children being taught to gather intelligence. [10 ]
Al Jazeera reports: ‘We saw scores of Tuareg child soldiers in northern Mali, especially among al-Qaeda-linked groups. Many come from communities that are extremely isolated and poor – where it is normal for a child to walk hours each day to bring water from distant wells, normal for children to lose a parent due to a lack of medical care, normal to be illiterate, and where every 10 years it is normal to lose some, half, or all of one’s animals, and to start once again from zero………’[11 ]
LIBYA AND THE TRANS-SAHARAN PEOPLE TRAFFICKING ROUTES
People traffickers are amongst the beneficiaries of the streams of economic migrants and asylum seekers moving through Libya on the old slave trading routes in an effort to reach Europe.
Libya’s long and un-policed desert borders allow people from African countries to be brought into the country undetected, and Libya’s 2,000-kilometer northern coastal border allows traffickers direct sea access to Europe. Emmanuel Gignac, head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Libya observes that the trans-Saharan people trafficking routes have become more hazardous. The two main hubs are Kufra and Sebha in Libya. West African migrants are going through Sebha via Chad or Niger, and those originating from the Horn of Africa are going through Sudan to Kufra.
Kufra is a cluster of oases in south eastern Libya 1,500 kilometres or so from the Mediterranean coast. Around 60,000 people now live there. It is on the old trans-Saharan slave trade route from Chad in the south to Benghazi in the north. It is now on the illegal migrant route from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. There are other routes through western Libya from Timbuktu and Kano to Tripoli which were used in the past by slave traders. When they reach Kufra, migrants are transported at night across the desert to the coast in covered trucks.
Kufra was a holy place. It was the seat of the Senussi theocracy which, for a number of years, controlled the southern part of the old province of Cyreniaca and oversaw the passing slave trade which persisted until at least 1911 – slightly more than 100 years ago. It is now the hub of an illegal trade in arms, drugs, alcohol and humans. There have been a number of disturbances there between the resident Arab al-Zwia tribe and the African Tebu minority. These clashes reflect the ancient animosity between the Tebus and the al-Zawia but are also part of a turf war for control of the smuggling trade and people trafficking. Migrants arriving, or returning to Kufra, pay large sums for their transport to ‘travel agents’. They may be accommodated in detention centres.
A recent eyewitness report from Sebha, a city 640 Kilometres south of Tripoli, gives us a glimpse of the modern trans-Saharan migrant route; “More than 1,300 illegal immigrants are detained here, some 100 kilometres outside the city of Sebha, along the road between the sand dunes to the south and the border with Niger. They have no shelter, not even makeshift tents, forced to sleep on the sandy, pebble-studded ground. Only the lucky few among them have a blanket to protect them from the gusts of scorching wind. The others curl up so they can shield their faces in their keffiyehs or T-shirts. It is early evening, and the temperature in this southern Libyan desert known for its scorpions and vipers is 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit)”. Another example, though from elsewhere in Libya – the UNHCR visited Abu Rashada detention centre in Garyan (West Libya) on 15 October 2012 and reported: ‘840 individuals were detained [there] including 30 women, 7 of them pregnant, as well as 50 minors. The detainees were mainly from Niger, Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Mali, and Somalia. UNHCR received reports of mistreatment’. [12 ]
The Nigerian Embassy in Libya offered this possibly dramatized warning to its nationals in a pamphlet in 2009. ‘Increasingly, among these migrants are young girls, who are lured into this journey under the pretext that they would work either in Libya or in Italy. Sadly, these girls end up in brothels, subjected to horrible sexual abuse, until they die in the hands of their captors. A few lucky ones are rescued by the police or the Nigerian Mission in one of the transit countries. Unfortunately, for most of them life would never be the same again, as they often contract HIV/AIDS while in these brothels.’ UNICEF reports that ‘Poverty is the key motivation for parents to send their children abroad. But they are unaware of the perils most children face in transit and at their destinations. An estimated 200,000 children are victims of child trafficking in Africa each year. Research has shown that most of the children trafficked to Libya are exploited as labourers in plantations or as child domestic workers.’ [13 ]
When the migrants travelling to Europe reach the Libyan coast they are embarked on flimsy and overcrowded boats for the hazardous sea trip to Malta, Lampedusa or Sicily. The UN Refugee Agency released figures in January 2012 showing that more than 1,500 irregular migrants or refugees drowned or went missing in 2011 while attempting crossings of the Mediterranean Sea. The Times of Malta dated 27th May 2012 carried this report; ‘This morning, a group of 136 illegal immigrants was brought to Malta on a patrol boat. The 86 men, 43 women and 7 children were picked up from a drifting dinghy some 72 miles south of Malta after their boat was deemed to be in distress. Among the migrants was a new-born, while another baby was born as a patrol boat was bringing the migrants to Malta.’
THE COMBINED EFFECT OF THE LIBYAN CIVIL WAR AND DROUGHT IN THE SAHEL COUNTRIES
The effect of drought in the Sahel, possibly because of climate change, has been clear for some time. As a starting point we might note that UNICEF predicts that ‘over 4 million children are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year  across the nine countries of the Sahel, including nearly 1.1 million children who will face life-threatening severe acute malnutrition’.[14 ]
Before the 2011 civil war labour migration to Libya acted as a key source of income for the development of neighbouring communities. The loss of remittances has had an adverse effect on these countries, particularly in light of looming food crises. The stream of returnees to Chad meant that the towns near the Libyan border doubled in size quickly and the breakdown in trade with southern Libya caused food prices to rise rapidly. The combined threat of drought, high food prices, displacement and chronic poverty is affecting millions of people in 2012.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations has stated that ‘food insecurity and malnutrition are recurrent in the region with more than 16 million people directly at risk this year . Drought has reduced Sahelian cereal production by 26 per cent as compared to last year, Chad and Gambia are experiencing 50 per cent decreases and other countries are suffering serious localized deficits. Severe fodder shortages are leading to early transhumance and changing livestock corridors, causing tensions to rise between communities and at border areas. The situation is compounded by high food prices and a decrease in remittances owing to the global economic crisis and the return of migrants from Libya. The deteriorating security situation in Northern areas is further aggravating the problem. The overall priorities in the region include: protecting the livelihoods of the most vulnerable’. [15 ]
Given the mounting number of reports of conflict it is surprising what little attention is now paid to the plight of children in the Sahel. The UN Security Council took this view of the situation in Chad in 2011. ‘The displacement of families as a result of both the volatile security situation and the economic situation has resulted in the movement of children, within some areas in eastern Chad, as well as into the Sudan, in extremely vulnerable conditions, making them potential targets for exploitation, recruitment and trafficking. Several incidents of child abduction and trafficking for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation purposes have been brought to the attention of the Task Force.’[16 ]
LAND MINES AND UNEXPLODED ORDINANCE ARE A SPECIAL THREAT TO CHILDREN
Land mines and unexploded weapons take large swaths of country out of agricultural use, divert migratory routes and keep aid agencies away.
High levels of abandoned and unexploded ordnance still litter towns and roads where fighting took place and without adequate understanding of the dangers many people, especially children and internally displaced persons, remain at risk of serious harm.
“We know of some deaths[in Libya], but we’re expecting many more when the conflict fully winds down, especially among children,” said Sarah Marshall, a representative of the U.N. demining group. “Kids see shiny objects on the ground, and naturally reach out for them. Plus, you can’t just leave a school with a grad missile sitting in the parking lot.” [17 ]. In Misurata, Libya, children’s playgrounds can be dangerous places. Tragic accidents are common where air strikes on munitions storage facilities have spread unexploded bombs into civilian areas.[18 ] Children are particularly attracted to 23mm bullets as they are in abundance and easy to pick up. 
Human Rights Watch documented the extensive use of antipersonnel and anti-vehicle landmines by Gaddafi forces during the 2011. HRW researchers found at least five types of mines in nine locations, including around Ajadabia, in the Nefusa Mountains, near Brega, and in Misurata. Over the past year, local and international demining organizations have been working with Libyan authorities and the United Nations to collect and destroy this abandoned ordnance. 
Chad is a vast, landlocked and arid central African country which harbours a largely nomadic population of 8.6 million on a territory twice the size of France. Three decades of war caused an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 deaths. It is struggling with a land mine problem. The affected areas are believed to cover 1,081 sq. km of land. Most of the mines were planted during the second Libyan occupation of northern Chad, from 1984 to 1987…..They are Gaddafi’s African legacy. [21 ]
A CONCLUSION – CIVIL WAR, FAMINE AND ‘FEEDBACK LOOPS’
People in flight become vulnerable as soon as they leave their homes and their support network. The dispersal of refugee camps in difficult terrain poses logistical problems for relief agencies which are exacerbated by armed groups such as Islamist extremists, militias, criminal gangs, drug smugglers and people traffickers. Land mines and unexploded ordnance restrict the movement of aid and assistance.
There is a classic feedback loop. Famine increases dissatisfaction with governments. Dissatisfaction leads to conflict which attracts radical groups such as al Qaeda franchises. This leads to military mobilisation and the further displacement of people.
Already aid agencies in the region are withdrawing because of danger to their personnel. Children are extremely vulnerable in these conditions.
For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
1] http://www.channel4.com/news/child-soldiers-sent-by-gaddafi-to-fight-libyan-rebels. Also see – The Battle for Libya: Killings, Disappearance and Torture, Amnesty International, 13th September 2011 and Africa without Gadaffi. The Case of Chad Crisis Group Africa Report No. 180. 21st October 2011.
2] Human Rights Council. Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A.HRC.19.68.pdf https://libyastories.com/2012/11/15/misuratans-and-the-black-tribe-of-tawergha-a-fourth-in-the-libyan-tribes-series/
3] Human Rights Council. Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A.HRC.19.68.pdf
4] May Ying Welsh, Al Jazeera.8th July 2012. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/07/201277173027451684.html
10] http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/09/25/mali-islamist-armed-groups-spread-fear-north seen and heard
12] Lucy Matieu in Le Temps dated 2012-07-06 and UNHCR Libya, External Update. October 2012 .
13] http://www.nigeriantripoli.org/illegal_migration.pdf and http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/niger_51679.html
16] Report of the UN Security Council Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Chad, S/2011/64.
17] Jon Jensen Global Post August 27, 2011 13:42 http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/110827/libya-gaddafis-land-mines-still-threat
Update 23rd December 2014
This has just appeared in the Libya Herald!
Libyan human rights group calls for halt to militias hiring minors
By Libya Herald staff.
Tripoli, 22 December 2014:
The Libyan Observatory for Human Rights (LOHR) has expressed “deep concern” that ever greater numbers of Libyans under the age of 18 are being recruited into the ranks of the country’s militias.
Insisting that the use of minors be stopped, the LOHR called on parents to stop allowing their children to join militias, cautioning that “what is voluntary now will become mandatory in the future”.
There has been evidence of all sides using minors as fighters. Some of those killed in the fighting in Kikla were said to be under 16 years of age.
The LOHR also said that the forced recruitment of untrained civilians into the current conflicts had to stop.
The United Nations had to put pressure on the warring parties to engage in dialogue in order to resolve the political crisis in Libya, the group stressed.
Update 4th October 2015
I published this paper on 12/5/2012. Since that time the security situation in Libya has worsened considerably. This has just appeared in the Libya Herald:
Tunis, 3 October 2015:
Nearly a million children in Libya are at risk in one way or another because of the fighting that has gripped the country (Libya) says a UN agency.
The risks range from the fighting itself and battlefield detritus, to lack of proper food and healthcare, psychological trauma and physical and sexual abuse, said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In a report issued this week it also claimed that children are being recruited, sometimes forcibly, by militias.
Over all, the OCHA is estimating that more than three million people – half of all Libyans – have been affected by the conflict and some 2.44 million are in need of protection and some form of humanitarian assistance.