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Geopolitics

Inside Gaddafi’s Surreal Bubble As The Bombing Begins

The full-moon view from one of the foreign journalists accredited by the regime to report from Tripoli.

Delphine Minoui

TRIPOLI - "Message to the press: you are invited for a tour of Bab-el Aziza. Please gather at the entrance hall of the hotel as soon as possible!" Moussa Ibrahim, the announcer at the hotel Rixos Al Nasr in Tripoli, is speaking with a voice that is more excited than normal. We have to be fast. In the parking lot, our usual tourist bus is waiting for us, and the door is already open. We have only enough time to grab our video recorders, microphones and cameras.

We are the several dozen journalists authorized by the regime to cover events in the capital – and we set off for Bab-el Aziza, Muammad Gaddafi's main base, which is just ten minutes away from the hotel.

Very quickly, a rumor spreads about a public announcement by the Libyan leader. It would be the first response from Gaddafi since Thursday's UN Security Council approval of a resolution for a Libyan no-fly zone. At our arrival at his headquarters, the usual supporters of the regime are already gathered in front of the gates. They are waving green flags and pictures of the Colonel. We pass through several checkpoints. The controls are strangely not very strict. We arrive in front a collapsed compound. It is a symbolic place. Gaddafi barely escaped the US air-striking which was carried out here in 1986 in response to a Berlin discotheque bombing that killed American soliders. Gaddafi's adopted daughter, Hannah, was killed.

The ruins were left here as a memorial. In front of it, hundreds of people are gathering. There are men, women, and teenagers. They are, in effect, forming a human shield. Bab-el Aziza is one of the possible targets of foreign air strikes. The crowd is singing pro-regime slogans, like football fans waiting for their team to take the field.

Banners are warning the West. "The people are ready to die for Libya," one reads. "Libya is ready and out of reach," reads another. There are metaphors too: "We are waiting for you and so are the fish." Our guide explains that this is a reference to a US aircraft which was shot down in the sea in the 80s.

A song that sounds like Shakira is playing. Some veiled women move to the music. Listening more carefully to the words, it is possible to recognize Gaddafi's first speech after the start of the popular uprising. On February 22nd, he said he would "cleanse Libya house by house" and "street by street" if necessary. The song, "Zenga Zenga" ("Street by street") is currently one of the most popular viral hits on YouTube. Noy Alooshe, an Israeli musician of Tunisian descent, created it to support Libyan opposition. The regime seems to have decided to adopt it for its own purposes.

Everything is strange tonight, even the full moon. Oddest of all is when I run into the owner of an esthetician center I'd interviewed last week. Instinctively, she hugs me, though she is a discreet opponent of the regime. Why is she attending such a propaganda show? There is no time to ask. The journalists are requested to gather on the ground floor of the collapsed compound. Minutes and hours go by. Gaddafi will keep us waiting, as usual.

All of a sudden, a cell phone rings. "Two missiles fell in East Tripoli," a fellow journalist says. The military action has officially started. There is no more time to waste acting as Gaddafi's propaganda speakers. All the journalists go back to the big bus, to ask for more updates. Once we are back at the hotel, the news is confirmed: US and British forces have fired more than 110 Tomahawk missiles on Libyan defense targets. One hour later, Gaddafi finally appears on the Libyan national television. "The Mediterranean region has become a real battlefield," he says in a audio message recorded at unknown time and place. "Arms depots have been opened, and all the Libyan people are being armed to defend the country against Western forces." Far away, blasts echo in the night.

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photo of Senegal President Macky Sall coming out of his airplane

President of Senegal Macky Sall arrives Monday at Andrews Air Force Base for the U.S.-Africa summit. Md., Dec. 12, 2022.

U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Isabelle Churchill
Alex Hurst

-Analysis-

Some 100 of the most important political eyes in Africa aren’t turned towards the U.S. this week — they’re in the U.S. For the first time in eight years, the White House is hosting 49 African heads of state and leaders of government (and the Senegalese head of the African Union) for a U.S.-Africa summit. Not invited: any nation that has recently undergone a military putsch, or otherwise not in good standing with the African Union, like Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Sudan.

It’s only the second such summit, after Barack Obama held the inaugural one in 2014. For African nations, it’s a chance to push for trade agreements and international investment, as reports FinancialAfrik, as well as to showcase their most successful businesses. According to RFI, dominant in its coverage of West Africa, on the agenda are: fighting terrorism, climate change, food security, and a financial facility intended to facilitate African exports to the U.S.

These themes are recurrent in national coverage and official diplomatic communiqués, from the likes of Cameroon (whose communiqué pointedly notes the U.S.’s “lack of colonial history” in Africa), which is seeking to regain access to the the U.S. market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, to Madagascar, which as an island nation, is particularly concerned with climate change.

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But is the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and the accompanying nice talk all just cynical cover for what are, in fact, purely U.S. strategic interests in its wider global competition with China? That’s certainly the message from Chinese media — but also a point of view either echoed, or simply acknowledged as matter of fact, by African voices.

“No matter how many fancy words the U.S. uses, the country still sees Africa as an arena to serve its strategic goal of competing with China,” Liu Xin writes for China’s state-run Global Times.

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