Why Turkey in Libya, and other war drums are Uganda’s business

Wednesday June 24 2020


By Charles Onyango-Obbo

If you are sitting in a corner of Uganda, or somewhere in East Africa, minding your own business, on the face of it seems like the following developments have nothing to do with it. Or do they?

First, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), was supposed to come into effect on July 1, a few days from now. Because of the new coronavirus pandemic (Kenyans just simply call it the Rona) it was moved to January 1, 2021.

Secondly, the civil war in Libya has been dragging on since October 2011, when its long-term dictator Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and then lynched, by a strange brew of militia and revolutionaries, aided by NATO bombs.

The surprise would have been if post-Gaddafi Libya hadn’t descended into chaos, because chaos is what follows when a long-ruling autocrat who has hollowed out the state with corrupt personal rule, departs the scene violently, without an orderly exit plan. Libya, if you think of it, is as an advertisement for why democracy is good.

Anyway, a few months Turkey, orchestrated by its imperial president Recep Tayyip Erdogan entered the fray on the side of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), as it looked at risk of being overrun by the rebel Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of the renegade “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar. The LNA had many friends and allies, ranging from neighbour Egypt, the Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and then there was Russia.

Turkey threw everything at them and they scattered, swinging the initiative back in favour of the GNA.


Turkey says it will support the GNA’s bid to take the strategic city of Sirte in the south.
Although it’s nearly one thousand kilometres from Egypt’s border, Cairo has said an attack on Sirte would be “crossing the red line”, and threatened to intervene militarily should Turkish and GNA forces make a move on the city.

Sirte is a big deal, because it grants leverage to control oil ports in eastern Libya, which includes its largest oil reserves.

Thirdly, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa presided over the digital launch of the Africa Medical Supplies Platform.

The platform has been likened to Amazon, and with it, African countries are coming together to set up a one-stop shop to give the continent a fairer chance in the international scramble for Covid-19 test kits, protective equipment and vaccines that will emerge.

Ramaphosa, said it “will…ensure price competitiveness (emphasis added)…reduce logistical delays, [and] simplify payment processes.” And, he added, it was the “silver lining” to Covid-19, and “the glue that is going to bind the continent together”.

The platform is set to be run as a non-profit by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) in Addis Ababa, and the Cairo-headquartered Afreximbank.

All these strands come together. As Ramaphosa suggested, the Africa Medical Supplies Platform could really be a key plank around which a continental common. Disease, not market goods, could turn out to be the biggest shot in the arm for AfCFTA.

That common market, though, could still be hamstrung by major conflicts and geopolitical rivalries. Elsewhere, Egypt has threatened Ethiopia with war, if next month it goes ahead to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile, which will be the largest hydropower in Africa when its running, without agreement. Ethiopia has said bring it on, and will go ahead with or without an agreement.

If Egypt, which has mobilised troops towards the Libyan order, carries out its threat to intervene militarily in Sirte, it is unlikely to be able to confront Ethiopia at the same time, a tussle which will be full of risks for it even in the best of times. Or, getting along with Ethiopia could become a smart move in the event of a war with Turkey in Libya.

Already, a triumphant Turkey has said it will establish two military bases in Libya. Turkey has become a key economic and political player in the Horn of Africa, and particularly Somalia, where UPDF forms the main contingent of AMISOM.

Soon, Turkey could, effectively, straddle the Mediterranean, and part of the East African Indian Ocean coastal zone. In Somalia, Uganda might have to negotiate terms for its continued engagement in with Ankara if it plans on a long stay.

Turkey’s imperial designs on the continent, contradictorily, seem to be pan-African. It wants one big piece together for it to advance its economic interests. Already, pre-Covid-19 Turkish Airlines flew to more destinations on the continent (51) than Emirates (30), which might come as a surprise to some. So, either if Africa unites against it as the new imperialist foe, or its economic designs egg on integration, the result could still be the same – closer continental cooperation.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”.