What will happen if the Libyan rebels advance to Tripoli?

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Answered by: James, An Expert in the Middle East Category
With Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's militants forcing Libya's rebel fighters back from the capital of Tripoli, an important question lingers in the mind of analysts and politicians alike: what if? What if the rebels had been more organized? What if they had had help? What if they would have turned out to be capable and honest administrators? Those questions may remain unanswered. But had the headline "Libyan Rebels Advance to Tripoli" been printed on the front page of the New York Times, the rules of international diplomacy would have changed.

First, to deal with an assumption: printing "Libyan Rebels Advance to Tripoli" would require the rebels to have advanced on their own. This would mean that foreign military aide had not been enlisted in their fight against Gaddafi, and what that symbolizes for Africa is historic. In 2009, Ghana completed Africa's first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected ruler to another, but the rebels' success would be greater.

An African populace would have decided on its own that it was oppressed. Then, using the organizational power of modern technology, the people of this populace would have come together and resist that oppression. Facing a strong enemy in a military dictator unwilling to relinquish power, they would not have asked for help but would have defeated him on their own. As a result, the new Libya, if they did not rename their wholly different country, would be the first African country that could truly claim to have self-determination. A legitimately independent country in Africa would be new to the modern world.

If the Libyan rebels advance to Tripoli though, they will do more than claim a symbolic city. One issue that plagues the rest of Africa is the importance of capital cities in the distribution of goods and foreign aide. Part of what keeps sub-Saharan Africa poor is the ease of claiming dishonest benefits within the capital cities. The rebels would have an opportunity to fight that. These fighters are not warlords. These fighters, as they have made clear from their willingness to keep fighting while taking heavy losses, are not interested in any sort of short-run gain, material or otherwise. These are men and women of principle who believe that a Libya that is not one of many blights on the honor of the African people is possible.

The possibility to negotiate with a state such as the new Libya could be cannot be understated: Libya's government would for the first time in forty years have the interests of Libya's people at heart. The cost of doing business with Libya would fall, stimulating the economy. The risk in sending aide would fall, stimulating aide. Travel restrictions would fall, allowing Libyans and foreigners freer movement in and out of the country to stimulate the interchange of ideas.

This is, admittedly, a utopian vision, but not an unrealistic one. Not once has been said that all of Libya's problems would be solved. Libya still has the yoke of a centrally planned economy to get out from under and a per capita GDP that, while high by African standards, would feed a European citizen for six months. These are not insurmountable problems. The view from Tripolian vistas is one of hope that stretches out across the Mediterranean and back over the sands of Libya and the rest of Africa.

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