Jesse A. Heitz considers the issue of African security in a unique way by answering the question of “Which of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Conquest, War, Famine, or Pestilence - has most affected African security in the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century?”  He argues that of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, war has posed the greatest threat to African security. But the other horsemen have had significant roles to play – and are often closely linked to war…

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse  by Viktor Vasnetsov. 1887.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Vasnetsov. 1887.

Pestilence – Libya & Kenya

War has a great effect on the horseman known as Pestilence. The term pestilence will extend beyond its biblical connotation.  It will be comprised of both its traditional identity of disease, as well as what can be described as a political disease, that being political instability.

In 1969, Libyan King Idris was deposed in a military coup by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.  The freshly-minted dictator quickly introduced state socialism and nationalized virtually all of the country’s industry, including the all-important oil industry.[1]  Over the next several decades Gaddafi’s Libya militarily intervened in neighboring states and its nationals engaged in terrorist acts around the globe, most notably the 1988 Lockerbie Bombing.[2]  In early 2011, violent protests broke out in Benghazi following the arrest of a human rights campaigner.[3]  Gaddafi’s security forces quickly retaliated, leading to a full-scale civil war.[4]  With help from allied airstrikes, Gaddafi was expelled from Tripoli in August of that year.  Within two months he had been captured and killed.[5] 

While Gaddafi had maintained his rule for four decades through the use of exceptional cunning and political mastery, the Libyan public had grown tired of the rampant corruption within his regime, whose officials often demanded millions of dollars in consultancy fees from foreign firms.[6]  He was documented to have extorted $1.5 billion from oil companies to pay for the Lockerbie settlement, and was said to have siphoned off tens of billions of dollars in state revenue into his own personal coffers.[7]  With Gaddafi’s corrupt, but relatively stable, government gone the post-Gaddafi Libya has been in a veritable state of violent flux ever since.

In Kenya, the course of events has been considerably different insofar as its government never experienced a period of state failure.  However, that is not to say that it did not fluctuate between efficient and ineffective.[8]  The swansong of the British Empire in Kenya, the Kenyan Emergency, lasted from 1952 to 1960.  With the level of conflict and tension so fierce, Britain opted to hasten granting Kenya its independence.[9]  For the following forty years, Kenya was marked by tribal animosity, political assassinations, and human rights violations.[10]  In recent years Kenya has stabilized, but the U.S. State Department has warned that regional instability in the Horn of Africa is the greatest threat to its security.[11]  Kenya has thus far extracted itself from its tradition of political pestilence born out of years of armed conflict and opposition, only to have its newfound stability threatened by the wars taking place in neighboring lands.

The nations of Africa are not the sole actors in the creation of political instability.  Foreign actors continue to jeopardize the political stability of developing nations in Africa.  Once it was perpetrated by the colonial powers, then dueling superpowers at the height of the Cold War, now it is nations that seek to service their own national interests.  For example, Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, which waged war against Robert Mugabe’s forces throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and the oppressive South Africa, found commercial partners in the United States.  The U.S. and its firms purchased large sums of manganese, platinum, and chromium from South Africa[12], while it bought chromium from Rhodesia[13] as well.  It cannot be doubted that such transactions did well to fund and prolong the conflicts raging in those states.

 

Pestilence & Disease

The final manifestation of pestilence heavily influenced by war is disease itself.  The Darfur Conflict illustrates this well.  Since fighting broke out in 2003 between the Sudanese government, its allied rebel groups and militias, and its enemies in the southern reaches of the country, some 2.7 million have been displaced[14], with an estimated 300,000 deaths.  Of those 300,000 deaths, it is reported that 80% were due to disease.[15]  While humanitarian organizations have made strides in caring for refugees, the threat of violence and attacks on convoys diminishes the ability of aid groups to combat disease by providing medical care and immunizations, clean water, and the rations necessary to stave off malnutrition-related illness.[16]

During and in the wake of war, numerous endemic diseases have surfaced, plaguing civilian populations.  The massive migrations of refugees have allowed a disease such as malaria to infect millions, and as of 1998 Africa accounted for some 90% of the world’s cases of malaria.[17]  Additionally, sub-Saharan Africa is horribly afflicted with varying types of infectious illness ranging from cholera and tuberculosis to dysentery.  Authorities estimate that 70% of the deaths in this massive portion of Africa are due to infectious disease.[18]

Another disease which is decimating many African nations is HIV/AIDS.  According to the U.N., in 2011 there were 1.8 million new cases of HIV for a total of 23.5 million people living with the disease, with some 1.2 million people dying from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.[19]  Stable and relatively conflict free states such as Botswana have achieved an 80% treatment level for its citizens suffering from HIV/AIDS.[20]  For war-torn and recovering states such as South Sudan and Somalia, the treatment rate falls to below 20%.[21]  Perhaps the most horrific correlation between HIV transmission and war is the widespread occurrence of sexual assault in war zones.  For example, scholars have alleged that there was a “willful transmission” of HIV, or the use of HIV as a weapon, during the Rwandan genocide when an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 women were raped.[22] 

One of the forgotten health concerns stemming from war is mental health.  Some sources have stated that the population of Uganda, which has been battling an insurrection in its northern territory for two decades, may have an incidence of PTSD in excess of 50%, and an incidence of clinical depression that sits above 70%.[23]  As shown, war can create and exacerbate the physical and psychological manifestations of pestilence.

 

Conquest – Troubles in Congo and Rwanda

The second horseman, Conquest, has been showcased in a series of intertwined wars that marred the Congo and its neighbors for decades and continue to define its security.  In the early 1950s, the native peoples of the Belgian colony of Congo achieved citizenship, which placed them on a more even footing with the Europeans that occupied their land.[24]  By 1958, the Congolese people began their march towards independence in earnest with the rise of Kasa-Vubu.[25]  Despite the tangible signs of progress, the call for immediate independence grew louder.  The Belgians had hoped to ever so slowly transition into releasing the reins on the Congo, but after riots in 1959, it was clear that such lofty aspirations were unrealistic.  By June the following year, the Belgians abruptly left their prized colony.[26]  Revolts and rioting quickly ensued, leading to several years of government instability, external interventions, and bloody conflict.[27] 

By November, Joseph Mobutu had seized power in a coup and wasted little time in tightening his grip on the infrastructure barren state, going so far as to rename it Zaire.  He cemented his control over the military, nationalized the industry within the state, and racked up the favor of Western governments who saw him as an opponent of the Communist Sphere.[28]  Throughout the 1970s, he engorged himself on the industry he had absorbed and brutally crushed any opposition to his rule.[29]  By the 1980s, an opposition party under the leadership of Etienne Tshisekedi emerged and kick-started the process of eroding Mobutu’s position.  As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, the West found decreasing utility from the murderous dictator and began applying diplomatic pressure on his regime.  Mobutu’s control continued to fade as his military began voicing their displeasure.[30]

Events in neighboring Rwanda in 1994 sealed Mobutu’s fate.  At that point Rwanda had a population of approximately seven million people, ripe with ethnic tension between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis.[31]  In April of that year, Rwandan President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and violence erupted almost immediately.[32]  Officials capable of stemming the bloodshed were quickly dispatched.[33]  By the end of the 100-day genocide, nearly three-quarters of the Tutsi population had been wiped out.[34]  Refugees and Tutsi rebel forces flooded into Zaire, eventually launching a counterattack and regaining control of Rwanda.  Then it was the turn of the perpetrators of the genocide to flee to Zaire.[35]

Congolese rebel forces under Laurent Kabila, a longtime Mobutu opponent, which had been growing in strength for years, led the charge against the Hutu rebels operating in Zaire.  With the support of Rwanda and Uganda, Kabila’s AFDL soon marched on Mobutu.  The First Congo War was well underway.  Kabila quickly overthrew Mobutu, who fled into exile, and renamed the nation the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).[36]  Yet, Kabila ruled with a firm hand.  Such a governing style was not in the best interests of his backers, who had hoped to plunder the DRC’s vast resources.[37]  Rwanda and Uganda then began funding the rebel groups fighting to unseat him.  Soon, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Chad, all sent troops in support of Kabila, with the intent of serving their own economic interests.[38]

War continued to ravage the DRC for the years that followed.  By 1999, the United Nations had stepped in levying the Lusaka Peace Accord.[39]  All signatories except Rwanda and Uganda withdrew their troops.  With violence still raging, the U.N. grossly increased its peacekeeping force.[40]  In 2006, Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, stated that all of his troops had been removed from the DRC’s Kivu provinces.[41]  Later that year, Joseph Kabila, Laurent Kabila’s son and successor following his 2001 assassination, signed a new constitution which ushered in sweeping reforms.[42] 

In 2008, Rwanda and the DRC, which had been steadily rebuilding the foundations of its government[43], joined forces to fight a rebel group named Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which had been operating in the DRC’s Kivu provinces.[44]  Unfortunately, by 2012, relations between the two rival states had broken down once more, with the DRC accusing Rwanda and Uganda of arming the M23 band of rebels.[45]  By the close of 2012, the U.N. was forced to maintain a 20,000 man strong peacekeeping force in the DRC.[46]  This seemingly endless string of war has devastated the DRC, with some four million people, nearly all of whom were civilians, perishing.[47]  The recent Kivu Conflict alone has displaced a reported three million people.[48]

 

Famine – From Ethiopia to Nigeria and beyond

The third horseman to be discussed is Famine.  Again, here we will extend beyond the word’s strict definition.  It will deal with both food shortages and economic difficulties, or hunger and poverty.  War is commonly attributed as a factor capable of causing famine.  In times of war and targeted violence, fields and food production facilities are often damaged or destroyed, efficient transportation is often impaired, and large populations of people are relocated to sometimes barren refugee camps where rations may be substandard.

A prominent example of war impacting or even causing famine could be witnessed through an examination of a portion of the Ethiopian Civil War during the 1970s and 1980s, when Ethiopia’s dictator, Mengistu, withheld food assistance to the Tigray peasantry, of whom his opponents were comprised.[49]  In the Democratic Republic of Congo, war has worsened food shortages.  During the never-ending sequence of war in that country, farmers in certain regions have lost up to 50% of their tools and 75% of their livestock.[50]  The 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia resulted in approximately one million deaths alone.[51]  The Nigerian Civil War, which took place from 1967 to 1970, witnessed 3,000 to 5,000 people lose their lives each day due to starvation.[52]  Famine, while complicated by numerous factors, can most certainly be both a cause and effect of war.

The second form of famine takes the shape of economics.  War has the ability to directly affect the properties that can drive economic decline and stagnation.  War can, and often does, cripple infrastructure, displace civilians including laborers, and foster the growth and extension of disease that can greatly tax healthcare systems.  One only needs to look at Libyan GDP per capita from the years 2010 to 2012 to view the economic impacts war can cause.  In 2010 Libyan GDP per capita was $15,900.  In 2011, the year of the civil war that ousted Gaddafi, it was reduced by over half to a paltry $6,100.  The following year it had rebounded to $12,300.[53] 

As mentioned above, the African continent had long been pilfered by colonial occupiers, self-indulging dictators, and opportunistic states.  There may be no better example of such a situation than that of Sierra Leone during the 1990s.  Rich with diamonds, ominously nicknamed “blood diamonds”, Sierra Leone was once besieged by rebels so brutal that their hallmark was amputating the hands and arms of civilians, including children, yet its neighbors such as Liberia, as well as nations and companies hailing from several different continents, have coldly picked sides based on who promised to auction off diamonds for the lowest price.[54]

 

War – The ultimate horseman?

In several African nations, economic growth is underway.  The mining and oil industries in particular are rushing into the “Dark Continent” with an almost unprecedented fervor[55], and the resultant influx of revenue for many once perpetually impoverished nations will only serve to bolster their security.  However, Malawian Vice President, Justin Mawelezi, warned in 2002 that armed conflict in southern Africa was a threat to attracting meaningful direct foreign investment.[56]  In other words, war could jeopardize economic growth.

In terms of African security, war has proven itself to be the bringer of pestilence, famine, and conquest.  War can cripple entire institutions such as education[57], it can create armies of child soldiers, and it can propel itself through attracting arms traffickers[58].  What makes the case for war’s supremacy amongst its fellow horsemen is that it is quantifiable and visible, its barbarism and resultant chaos are in plain view.  In biblical terms, war is fully capable of being, and often is, the proverbial “Alpha and Omega”, the beginning and the end of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

 

Did you find this article of interest? Tell the world if so. Tweet about it, like it, or share it by clicking on one of the buttons below…

 

[1] "Libya Profile." BBC News. BBC, 26 June 2013. Web. 12 July 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13755445>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid

[6] Lichtblau, Eric, David Rohde, and James Risen. "Shady Dealings Helped Qaddafi Build Fortune and Regime." Nytimes.com. New York Times, 24 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 July 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/world/africa/24qaddafi.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Charles Hornsby, Kenya: A History Since Independence, (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012), p.3

[9] Duncan Hill, World at War: 1945 to the Present Day, (Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK: Transatlantic, 2011), p.22

[10] "Kenya: A Political History." BBC News. BBC, 24 Dec. 1997. Web. 10 July 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/for_christmas/_new_year/kenyan_elections/41737.stm>.

[11] "U.S. Relations With Kenya." State.gov. U.S. Department of State, 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 16 July 2013. <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2962.htm>.

[12] Thomas G. Paterson, John Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. . Hagan, American Foreign Relations: Volume 2, Since 1895, (Boston Mass: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), p.424

[13] Paterson, p.384

[14] "Darfur--Overview." Unicef.org. UNICEF, Oct. 2008. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sudan_darfuroverview.html>.

[15] Associated Press. "Study: Most Deaths in Darfur War from Disease." Msnbc.com. NBC News, 23 Jan. 2010. Web. 12 July 2013.

[16] "Darfur--Overview.”.

[17] Thomas C. Nchinda, "Malaria: A Reemerging Disease in Africa." Emerging Infectious Diseases 4.3 (1998): 398-403. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. World Health Organization. Web. 15 July 2013.

[18] Maire A. Connolly, and David L. Heymann. "Deadly Comrades: War and Infectious Diseases." The Lancet Supplement 360 (2002): 23-24. Rice University. Web. 11 July 2013.

[19] "Regional Fact Sheet 2012: Sub-Saharan Africa." Unaids.org. United Nations, n.d. Web. 9 July 2013. <http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/documents/epidemiology/2012/gr2012/2012_FS_regional_ssa_en.pdf>.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid

[22] Obijiofor Aginam, "Rape and HIV as Weapons of War." Unu.edu. United Nations University, 27 June 2012. Web. 13 July 2013.

[23] Stephen Leahy, "Africa: Untreated Mental Illness the Invisible Fallout of War and Poverty." Allafrica.com. All Africa, 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 July 2013.

[24] Sean Rorison, Congo: Democratic Republic and Republic, (Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides, 2008), p. 65

[25] Rorison, p. 66

[26] Rorison, p. 66

[27] Rorison, p. 67

[28] Rorison, p. 68

[29] Rorison, p. 69

[30] Rorison, p. 69

[31] "Genocide in Rwanda." Unitedhumanrights.org. United Human Rights Council, n.d. Web. 16 July 2013. <http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/genocide/genocide_in_rwanda.htm>.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Rorison, p. 70

[36] Rorison, p. 70

[37] "DR Congo." Refugeesinternational.org. Refugees International, n.d. Web. 17 July 2013.

[38] Rorison, p. 71

[39] Rorison, p. 72

[40] Rorison, p. 73

[41] Rorison, p. 74

[42] Rorison, p. 74

[43] "Q&A: DR Congo Conflict." BBC News. BBC, 20 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 July 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11108589>.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Rorison, p. 71

[48] "DR Congo.”.

[49] "Ethiopian Famine 25th Anniversary - Questions and Answers." One.org.us. One, n.d. Web. 16 July 2013. <http://www.one.org/c/us/issuebrief/3127/>.

[50] "Congo: Grappling with Malnutrition and Post-Conflict Woes." Irinnews.org. IRIN Africa, 9 Aug. 2007. Web. 11 July 2013.

[51] "Ethiopian Famine 25th Anniversary - Questions and Answers.".

[52] Hurst, Ryan. "Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970)." Blackpast.org. The Black Past, n.d. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.blackpast.org/?q=gah/nigerian-civil-war-1967-1970>.

[53] "Libya." Cia.gov. The Central Intelligence Agency, 10 July 2013. Web. 16 July 2013.

 

[54] James Rupert, "Diamond Hunters Fuel Africa's Brutal Wars." Washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 16 Oct. 1999. Web. 14 July 2013. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/daily/oct99/sierra16.htm>.

[55] Leka, Acha, Susan Lund, Charles Roxburgh, and Arend Van Wamelen. "What's Driving Africa's Growth?" Www.Mckinsey.com. McKinsey & Company, June 2010.

[56] "Instability Scares Off Investment, Malawi Official Warns." Panapress.com. Panapress, 12 Jan. 2002. Web. 15 July 2013.

[57] "Conflict Makes Millions Miss School." Aljazeera.com. Al Jazeera English, 1 Mar. 2011. Web. 15 July 2013. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2011/03/201131194628514946.html>.

[58] Kester Kenn Klomegah, "Russia Eyes Africa to Boost Arms Sales." Guardian.co.uk. Guardian News and Media, 04 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/04/arms-trade-africa>.

This is the second article we have chosen as we end the year by re-publishing some of our top blog posts.

In a follow-up to articles on the initial Italian colonization attempts and Mussolini’s bloody conquest, we continue the story of how Italy brutally conquered Libya here. 

 

Going a few years back from Mussolini’s invasion of Libya, one of the main reasons for the original Italian invasion of Ottoman Libya was to expand Italy’s comparatively small colonial empire. Another concern was the rapid emigration of Italians to the United States and other countries (650,000 were estimated to have migrated to the US in 1910 alone). After the end of the Italian-Ottoman war, the Italians began to create plans to transport thousands and thousands of Italian colonists into the country’s newest territorial acquisition.

An photo of the 1937 Tripoli Grand  Prix

An photo of the 1937 Tripoli Grand Prix

State-sponsored colonization

It formally began in 1913 with the establishment of the Ufficio Fondario (the Land Office), which had the job of assigning land to would-be Italian colonists. The Land Office initially assumed that all uncultivated land was private property and only assigned public lands to the colonists. However on July 18 1922, the Italian governor of Libya, Giuseppe Volpi (who would later order the Reconquista of Libya), issued a decree declaring all uncultivated land to be in the public domain, increasing the amount of land available to Italian colonists tenfold.  Further decrees issued caused the confiscation of land owned by rebels or those aiding the rebels, in an effort to crackdown on dissent.

In 1928, de Bono (Volpi’s successor) issued subsidies and additional credits to help attract more colonists. Despite these measures, Italian immigration rates were much lower than what the government had expected, with little capital being invested in Libyan lands.

The situation changed in the early 1930s as a result of the Great Depression. A negative balance of trade, rampant unemployment and a strong lira encouraged mainland Italians to emigrate. Libya provided the perfect solution. With Omar Mukhtar executed and the rebels defeated, many public-works and infrastructure project ideas could finally be undertaken, in addition to resettlement projects. Indeed, all of these projects required manpower. It was the perfect region for the typical poor Italian patriot.

In 1934, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were merged together to form a Tripoli-based province. Four years later, Mussolini would declare Libya an integral part of the Kingdom of Italy, forming the country’s nineteenth region, dubbing it La Quarta Sponda d’Italia (Italy’s Fourth Shore).

Mussolini, who was imprisoned in 1911 for his criticism of the original Italian invasion, had visited Libya three times; in 1926, 1937 and 1942. His 1937 visit was to open what was described as the largest public works project in Libya, the 1,132 mile long strada litoranea (coastal highway), which ran from the Tunisian border to the Egyptian frontier. Though the Italians insisted it was only to help improve tourism in the region, contemporaries saw the strategic military value of such a road. Indeed, this road proved to be crucial to victory in the North African front of World War II (and more recently, the Libyan Civil War). The press in Italy hailed it as a feat of Italian engineering, despite it being built on the back of Libyan laborers.

Two major waves of immigration occurred in the 1930s; one in October 1938 and the other in 1939. Both were organized by the Italian governor Balbo - he led a convoy of around 10,000 Italians to Libya in 1938 and another 10,000 in the following year. His plan was to settle 20,000 colonists annually for five years, with the ultimate goal of reaching 500,000 colonists by 1950. In what could be seen as a precursor to reactions against Jewish migration to British Palestine, Italian migration evoked resentment and protests in the Muslim World, with agitations against it appearing as far away as Baghdad.

More support for colonists emerged in the form of the agricultural corporation Ente which was meant to attract farmers. Using confiscated land, the colonists (numbering 50,000 in the late 1930s) worked on 2,000 farms. By 1939, the Italians had built 400 kilometers of new railroads and 4,000 kilometers of new roads. Until 1940, there was even a Tripoli Grand Prix organized annually, while Italian archaeologists excavated the ruined Phoenician settlement of Leptis Magna and sent artifacts to museums in the mainland.

 

The Libyan Side

Many of the colonists were poor, but were generally better off than the native Libyan population. Libyans, mostly paupers, resented Italian development, still remembering the virtual genocide committed by them. It was only in September 1933 that the concentration camps were finally shut – and they left a horrifying toll. 40,000 of the 100,000 total internees died in the camps. Though Libyans resented the foreigners, Italian propaganda portrayed a very different story. In Mussolini’s 1937 visit, he declared Libya to be “morally and profoundly Italian”, to which the Muslims of Tripoli greeted him by addressing him as “the greatest man of the century and a sincere friend of Islam.” He was even awarded the ‘Sword of Islam’ (a Florentine sword with a fabricated history) and was declared the “Protector of Islam.”

For the native Libyans, life was not easy. All Libyans, of whatever faith, were expected to give the Fascist salute. Most wore black shirts during Mussolini’s 1937 visit to Tripoli. And in an effort to spread the wonders of Fascism, the Italian government ordered the formation of a Fascist group for Libyan youths, the Gioventu Araba (Arab Youth), modeled after Italy’s Opera Nazionale Balilla.

In 1939, the Italians allowed Libyans to apply for Cittadinanza Italiana Speciale (special Italian citizenship) effectively relegating Libyans to second-class citizens. At the time, Libyans were not allowed to work professionally in jobs involving Italian subordinates. That said, it seemed unlikely to be a great problem anyway as soon enough there were only 16 Libyan university graduates in the country. All told, even if the Italian occupation led to significant improvements in infrastructure and agricultural output, it left behind a native Libyan population that was not skilled and largely uneducated, while the country lacked effective political institutions. The effects of this would be apparent in the following decades.

With the outbreak of World War II, Balbo’s plan was in tatters. Most of the fighting occurred on farms allocated to the colonists. By 1941, only 8,426 colonists remained. Within a year, this number had halved. Following the end of subsidies and government support, the colonists abandoned Libya. The Allied forces occupied Libya in 1943. Libya was to declare its independence in December 1951.

 

By Droodkin, the owner of the international history blog – click here to see the site.

 

And why not join our mailing list to hear about more great articles like this? And get some great special gifts! Click here!

 

References

 

Further reading

If you would like to read in more depth about what life was like in Italian Libyan, I recommend Brian McLaren’s Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya: An Ambivalent Modernism.

In a follow-up to articles on the initial Italian colonization attempts and Mussolini’s bloody conquest, we continue the story here..

Going a few years back from Mussolini’s invasion of Libya, one of the main reasons for the original Italian invasion of Ottoman Libya was to expand Italy’s comparatively small colonial empire. Another concern was the rapid emigration of Italians to the United States and other countries (650,000 were estimated to have migrated to the US in 1910 alone). After the end of the Italian-Ottoman war, the Italians began to create plans to transport thousands and thousands of Italian colonists into the country’s newest territorial acquisition.

Arab Lictor Youth, a Fascist youth organization in Italian Libya

Arab Lictor Youth, a Fascist youth organization in Italian Libya

State-sponsored colonization

It formally began in 1913 with the establishment of the Ufficio Fondario (the Land Office), which had the job of assigning land to would-be Italian colonists. The Land Office initially assumed that all uncultivated land was private property and only assigned public lands to the colonists. However on July 18 1922, the Italian governor of Libya, Giuseppe Volpi (who would later order the Reconquista of Libya), issued a decree declaring all uncultivated land to be in the public domain, increasing the amount of land available to Italian colonists tenfold.  Further decrees issued caused the confiscation of land owned by rebels or those aiding the rebels, in an effort to crackdown on dissent.

In 1928, de Bono (Volpi’s successor) issued subsidies and additional credits to help attract more colonists. Despite these measures, Italian immigration rates were much lower than what the government had expected, with little capital being invested in Libyan lands.

The situation changed in the early 1930s as a result of the Great Depression. A negative balance of trade, rampant unemployment and a strong lira encouraged mainland Italians to emigrate. Libya provided the perfect solution. With Omar Mukhtar executed and the rebels defeated, many public-works and infrastructure project ideas could finally be undertaken, in addition to resettlement projects. Indeed, all of these projects required manpower. It was the perfect region for the typical poor Italian patriot.

In 1934, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were merged together to form a Tripoli-based province. Four years later, Mussolini would declare Libya an integral part of the Kingdom of Italy, forming the country’s nineteenth region, dubbing it La Quarta Sponda d’Italia (Italy’s Fourth Shore).

Mussolini, who was imprisoned in 1911 for his criticism of the original Italian invasion, had visited Libya three times; in 1926, 1937 and 1942. His 1937 visit was to open what was described as the largest public works project in Libya, the 1,132 mile long strada litoranea (coastal highway), which ran from the Tunisian border to the Egyptian frontier. Though the Italians insisted it was only to help improve tourism in the region, contemporaries saw the strategic military value of such a road. Indeed, this road proved to be crucial to victory in the North African front of World War II (and more recently, the Libyan Civil War). The press in Italy hailed it as a feat of Italian engineering, despite it being built on the back of Libyan laborers.

Two major waves of immigration occurred in the 1930s; one in October 1938 and the other in 1939. Both were organized by the Italian governor Balbo - he led a convoy of around 10,000 Italians to Libya in 1938 and another 10,000 in the following year. His plan was to settle 20,000 colonists annually for five years, with the ultimate goal of reaching 500,000 colonists by 1950. In what could be seen as a precursor to reactions against Jewish migration to British Palestine, Italian migration evoked resentment and protests in the Muslim World, with agitations against it appearing as far away as Baghdad.

More support for colonists emerged in the form of the agricultural corporation Ente which was meant to attract farmers. Using confiscated land, the colonists (numbering 50,000 in the late 1930s) worked on 2,000 farms. By 1939, the Italians had built 400 kilometers of new railroads and 4,000 kilometers of new roads. Until 1940, there was even a Tripoli Grand Prix organized annually, while Italian archaeologists excavated the ruined Phoenician settlement of Leptis Magna and sent artifacts to museums in the mainland.

1937 Tripoli Grand Prix. Source: Rossana Bianchi

1937 Tripoli Grand Prix. Source: Rossana Bianchi

The Libyan Side

Many of the colonists were poor, but were generally better off than the native Libyan population. Libyans, mostly paupers, resented Italian development, still remembering the virtual genocide committed by them. It was only in September 1933 that the concentration camps were finally shut – and they left a horrifying toll. 40,000 of the 100,000 total internees died in the camps. Though Libyans resented the foreigners, Italian propaganda portrayed a very different story. In Mussolini’s 1937 visit, he declared Libya to be “morally and profoundly Italian”, to which the Muslims of Tripoli greeted him by addressing him as “the greatest man of the century and a sincere friend of Islam.” He was even awarded the ‘Sword of Islam’ (a Florentine sword with a fabricated history) and was declared the “Protector of Islam.”

For the native Libyans, life was not easy. All Libyans, of whatever faith, were expected to give the Fascist salute. Most wore black shirts during Mussolini’s 1937 visit to Tripoli. And in an effort to spread the wonders of Fascism, the Italian government ordered the formation of a Fascist group for Libyan youths, the Gioventu Araba (Arab Youth), modeled after Italy’s Opera Nazionale Balilla.

In 1939, the Italians allowed Libyans to apply for Cittadinanza Italiana Speciale (special Italian citizenship) effectively relegating Libyans to second-class citizens. At the time, Libyans were not allowed to work professionally in jobs involving Italian subordinates. That said, it seemed unlikely to be a great problem anyway as soon enough there were only 16 Libyan university graduates in the country. All told, even if the Italian occupation led to significant improvements in infrastructure and agricultural output, it left behind a native Libyan population that was not skilled and largely uneducated, while the country lacked effective political institutions. The effects of this would be apparent in the following decades.

With the outbreak of World War II, Balbo’s plan was in tatters. Most of the fighting occurred on farms allocated to the colonists. By 1941, only 8,426 colonists remained. Within a year, this number had halved. Following the end of subsidies and government support, the colonists abandoned Libya. The Allied forces occupied Libya in 1943. Libya was to declare its independence in December 1951.

 

By Droodkin

Droodkin owns the international history blog – click here to see the site.

And why not join our mailing list to hear about more great articles like this? Click here!

 

References

Libya: From Colony to Revolution by Ronald Bruce St. John, pages 1936-1939

Libya and the West: From Independence to Lockerbie by Geoff Simons, pages 12-13

 

Further reading

If you would like to read in depth about exactly how Italian Libya life was, I recommend Brian McLaren’s Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya: An Ambivalent Modernism.

We continue our story of Italian colonialism in Libya, following our previous article on the Italian invasion.

 

The 1912 peace treaty between Italy and the Ottoman Empire may have ceased the two state’s hostilities but the Libyans persisted in their guerilla-warfare struggle against their new Italian occupiers. This transfer of sovereignty meant little to the average Libyan, as one commentator later stated:

The legal transfer of sovereignty… seemed meaningless to Muslims, who fought the war not in the name of Ottoman sovereignty over Libya, but in the name of Islam.

From 1912-1915, Libyan resistance was strongest in the eastern province of Cyrenaica, where the organized Sanussi Order rallied tribesmen under the leadership of Ahmed al-Sharif, equipped with arms left by the Ottomans. Their Libyan counterparts in Tripolitania weren’t as effective, having failed to muster a sizeable Berber army. In the resulting power-vacuum, Fezzan (Libya’s south) was vulnerable to French occupation. Indeed, in 1913, a French army was already en route to occupy the regional capital of Ghat.

Once again, Italy had to respond to provocative French actions in North Africa and hurriedly arranged an expedition numbering thousands into the Fezzan in July 1913. Despite capturing several key towns and oases, the Italian supply lines were overstretched and vulnerable to attack by Libyan resistance fighters. The commanding colonel, Miani, knew he had as little hope of conquering Fezzan as the Roman general Balbus did over 2000 years earlier. The Sanussi tribesmen struck under Ahmed al-Sharif’s brother, in August 1913. Within weeks, the brief Italian occupation of Fezzan had ended and the tide began to turn in favor of the Libyans. The garrisons in the towns of Edri and Ubari were massacred and the fort of Sabha retaken. The Italians, numbering just one thousand, had to flee to French Algeria for protection.

Image from the El Agheila concentration camp

Image from the El Agheila concentration camp

After several skirmishes, the Sanussi-led fighters began to push towards the coastal city of Sirte in April 1915. The Italians counter-attacked with a force of 4,000 soldiers under colonel Miani, to be supported by 3,500 Libyan auxiliaries under the leadership of Ramadan al-Suwayhli of Misrata. Ramadan had initially fought and later collaborated with the Italians, who by now had assumed he was loyal towards them. On April 29, the two sides met at Qasr Bu Hadi (south of Sirte). Just as the battle started, Ramadan ordered his soldiers to open fire on his Italian comrades. Sources described the battle as a massacre, with only a handful of Italians (Miani included) escaping. The Libyans captured thousands of rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition, as well as artillery, and marched on to capture Misrata. The Italians panicked, with several garrisons abandoning their posts. On July 5, the Italians issued a general withdrawal order to the coastline, where they could be protected through Italian naval bombardments.

 

World War I and the British

Italy was already preoccupied with the outbreak of World War I, which resulted in much of the Italian force in Libya being recalled to the mainland. With the withdrawal of active Italian units, factional disputes began to arise amongst the tribal allies of Libya. Several ‘regional governments’ were set up across newly liberated territories, each headed by militant leaders. For example, in 1915, Western Tripolitania was controlled by Suf al-Mahmudi, and Eastern Tripolitania and Misrata was controlled by Ramadan al-Suwayhli, while Khalifa al-Zawi controlled Fezzan until 1926. Even though these regional governments were short-lived, it highlighted the fractured nature of the Libyan fighters. This fracture arose due to socioeconomic differences and quarrels over revenue.

Aid would soon arrive to Italy in an unexpected form though - the United Kingdom. As nominal allies in WWI, an enemy of Italy was therefore the UK’s enemy. In 1915, a British army inflicted a heavy defeat on the Sanussi army in the Egyptian desert, a defeat that saw Ahmed al-Sharif surrender his title as Grand Master of the Sanussi Order to Muhammad al-Idris (who would later go on to be King Idris in 1952).  In 1917, the British mediated an agreement between the Italians and Idris wherein the Italians acknowledged Idris’ control of Libya’s interior and also gave autonomy to Tripolitania’s numerous regional governments. Later that year, Idris (with the support of the British government) negotiated another agreement with the Italian government, which called for an end to all hostilities, the recognition of Italian and Sanussi zones in Cyrenaica, outlined security responsibilities of both parties, and called (ambiguously) for the disarming of the tribes.

Why would Italy make these concessions? After going through decades of peaceful penetration and years of war, why? The answer is simple. The Great War in Europe forced Italy’s hand; peace, or at least a ceasefire, would free up thousands of Italian soldiers to defend the Italian homeland. The ends justified the means and the Italians had to compromise with the Libyan nationalists, this did not leave the Italian government free from criticism for being “too impractical”. Italy passed statutes that gave limited self-governance to Tripolitania and Cyrenaica and elections for an ‘advisory parliament’. A more liberal approach to Libya was adopted. For now.

 

The first Arab Republic and the rise of Mussolini

In 1918, the Arabs of Tripolitania capitalized on Italy’s weakness and declared the independence of the Tripolitanian Republic (which is also the Arab World’s first republic) under the leadership of the Committee For Reform, based in Misrata and headed by Ramadan al-Suwayhli, the dominant figure in Eastern Tripolitania. Largely symbolic and seen by contemporaries as the “seed for an independent Libya”, the republic was very unsuccessful. Once again, tribal infighting prevented a united response against the Italians. The Tripolitanian Assembly failed to convene at all due to petty rivalries and the assembly was dissolved in 1923. In contrast, the Cyrenaican parliament of the same period met five times and was generally more effective than its counterpart. However, the establishment of political entities in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania was a significant attempt at establishing political unity between the two regions, although by the 1920s, Italy had other intentions.

August 1921 marked the arrival of the eleventh governor of Libya in 10 years, Giuseppe Volpi, to Tripoli amidst the raging wave of Fascism sweeping the Italian mainland. On October 28 1922, Benito Mussolini marched into Rome and began what would be a 21-year Fascist dictatorship of Italy. Mussolini, eager to gain domestic triumphs, set his eyes upon reconquering Libya. He authorized Volpi to conduct a Reconquista of Libya. Volpi arrived in a Libya where the Italians controlled nothing beyond the barbed-wire fences and where Libyan nationalists demanded even greater self-rule. By April 1922, Volpi amassed an army of 15,000 soldiers (20,000 by 1926) and made his intentions clear. The only way to rule Libya was direct rule from Rome. He summarized his policy as;

“Neither with the chiefs nor against the chiefs, but without the chiefs”

In early 1923, Volpi’s campaign began. What happened during and in the aftermath of the campaign was later described as textbook genocide by historians.

Supporting Italy’s soldiers were an armada of airplanes, artillery and even poison gas. Though Italy was a signatory of the 1925 Geneva Convention that banned chemical weapons in battle, Italian forces were recorded to have used poison gas as early as January 1928.

By the end of 1924, Tripolitania was subdued and the republic dissolved. It would take four more years before the Sanussi of Cyrenaica would surrender to the Italians. In 1929, the two regions and northern Fezzan were united into one entity, Libya, under the control of a military governor. Idris had fled to Egypt by then.

 

Fascist Italy’s Victory

Libyan authorities placed the casualty figure at 750,000. Large number of communities were uprooted and sent to concentration camps, where they were slaughtered. Contemporary sources describe the situation in the camps and major cities. Von Gotbery, a German visitor in Tripoli, stated:

“No army meted out such vile and inhumane treatment as the Italian army in Tripoli. General Kanaiva has shown contempt for every international law, regarding lives as worthless”

Knud Holmboe, a Danish Muslim, described a concentration camp he visited that was said to contain six to eight-thousand people:

“The children were in rags, half hungry, half starved…. The Bedouins…looked incredibly ragged…many of them seemed ill and wretched, limping along with crooked backs, or with arms or legs that were terribly deformed.”

In the spring of 1923, over 23,000 Libyan nomads were rounded up in concentration camps. The imprisoned Arabs would suffer from repeated armored charges, killing an average of 500 men, 30,000 sheep, and 2,300 camels.

By 1930, the rest of Fezzan was reconquered. By this time, General Graziani was in charge of Libya. He was praised in Italy as a national hero; in Cyrenaica he was called “Butcher Graziani”. The ‘credit’ should not be his alone though. Historian Geoff Simons argues that the Italian Colonial Ministry, the military governor, the Italian press, and the Italian Fascists all played their part in the genocide.

In March 1930, Graziani landed in Benghazi where he discovered that Libyan nationalists were still engaging in skirmishes, under the leadership of Omar al-Mukhtar. Omar himself was injured and Graziani believed he had a mere 600 guns at his disposal. Calling Omar a ‘poisoned organism that should be destroyed’, he believed that disposing of Omar al-Mukhtar would destroy the Libyan rebellion. Observers believed that Graziani had a personal vendetta against Omar but in fact, he was intent on destroying all Libyan resistance.

Graziani had no limits to his plans to destroy the Libyan resistance. He proposed bombing suspected rebel encampments with mustard-gas bombs. In June 1930, Graziani proposed the mass deportation of Libyans as a means of separating civilians from the guerilla fighters. The Italian general (and later Prime Minister) Pietro Badoglio wrote to Graziani and told him that the mass deportations of tribes were “a necessary measure”. In a letter, he went on to say:

“We must, above all, create a large and defined territorial gap between the rebels and subject population. I do not conceal from myself the significance and gravity of this action, which may well spell the ruin of the so-called subject population. But for now on the path has been traced out for us and we have to follow it to the end even if the entire population of Cyrenaica has to perish”

 

The end of the resistance

Graziani’s final move in Cyrenaica was the construction of a 200-mile long barbed wire fence along the Egyptian border in 1930. This was meant to restrict the movement of Omar al-Mukhtar’s guerilla forces into neutral Egypt.  On September 11 1931, Omar’s group of 12 was intercepted by Italian forces after being spotted by an Italian airplane. Omar was captured while the rest were gunned down. On September 12, he was sent to Benghazi on board an Italian destroyer and was correctly identified by Italian officials. The Italian general Badoglio relished the moment. He wanted to put Omar on show-trial and execute him in a concentration camp. Graziani organized a trial and the general consensus amongst Italians was that Omar should be executed. After an extremely short court hearing, in which the prosecutor was very sarcastic and partisan, the death sentence was handed to Omar.

Omar Mokhtar arrested by Italian Fascists

Omar Mokhtar arrested by Italian Fascists

At 9am on September 16 1931, Omar al-Mukhtar was hanged in front of 20,000 inmates in the Solouk concentration camp.

It took exactly 20 years to subdue Libya. The Italian Reconquista was brutal. Civilians and their livestock were deliberately bombed. Prisoners were thrown alive outside airplanes in mid-flight. There were reports of inmates being crushed to death by tanks. Thousands of suspected rebels were arrested and shot.  Though no definitive casualty number is available (the Italian colonial archives are still restricted), two-thirds (110,000 people) of Cyrenaica’s population were interned into concentration camps, of which 40,000 perished. On January 24 1932, General Badoglio declared that the war was over. The colonization of Libya could begin.

By Droodkin

Droodkin owns the international history blog – click here to see the site.

And the next in the Libya series is here: 

Fourth Shore - The Italian Colonization of Libya

 

PS - Why not join our mailing list to hear about more great articles like this? Click here!

 

References

Libya: From Colony to Revolution by Ronald Bruce St. John, pages 1930-1936 (I recommend a read if you would like a greater detail of the events above)

Libya and the West: From Independence to Lockerbie by Geoff Simons, pages 7-12

 

This article was previewed on the site for a time and the full article is now in the magazine. Click here for more information!

Meanwhile the next articles in this series are here: 

The Libyan Experiment and Italian Subjugation under Mussolini

Fourth Shore - The Italian Colonization of Libya

 

And here is the start of the Italian invasion of Libya article...

 

The Derna, a cargo ship, departed from Turkey in September 1911. Its cargo hold was filled with 20,000 rifles, 2 million rounds of ammunition, and machineguns. These arms were destined for the Ottoman-Libyan port of Tripoli, where they would be distributed amongst loyal Libyan tribesmen. On September 24, Italy caught wind of the ship’s journey and issued a warning to the Ottomans that “sending war materials to Tripoli was an obvious threat to the status quo” and endangered the Italian community in Libya. The ship started unloading its cargo at Tripoli harbor on September 26. Infuriated, the Italian government issued a 24-hour ultimatum to the Ottoman Empire on the 28th: let the regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica fall under Italian jurisdiction and military occupation or else war would be declared. The Ottomans gave a reasonable and conciliatory reply but Italy would have none of it. On September 29, Italy declared war on Ottoman Libya, a decision described by the Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti as fulfilling una fatalia storica – a historical destiny.

 

And remember, the follow-up articles are here: 

The Libyan Experiment and Italian Subjugation under Mussolini

Fourth Shore - The Italian Colonization of Libya

 

The Italian siege of Tobruk

The Italian siege of Tobruk