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Chad News

No African red carpet for King of Kings

* Eritrea, Zimbabwe seen as possible boltholes

* Negotiated exit could open more doors

NAIROBI, March 8 (Reuters) - For a man who has courted and sought to unite African nations for years, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may find himself short of welcoming hosts on the continent if he is forced to flee fast.

Now fighting a revolution at home, Gaddafi has been a driving force behind the African Union, his largesse has extended Libya’s economic reach throughout sub-Saharan Africa and he still has some close friends in power.

But analysts say many African leaders have become frustrated with Gaddafi’s erratic behaviour, some still harbour grudges over past meddling in internal conflicts and others may not want to tarnish their images further by giving him a home.

While Gaddafi supported a number of African independence movements, his backing of rebels who tore apart Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the treatment of Africans in Libya, has left some cynical about his objectives in sub-Saharan Africa.

Neighbours such as Chad and Niger may be wary about hosting Gaddafi in case his presence becomes a destabilising influence, and for fear of risking relationships with France.

Gaddafi would also have to weigh carefully whether some potential but ageing hosts would be able to shield him for long from any future prosecution at The Hague.

“I am not altogether sure that Gaddafi has any options in Africa which would be both viable at the moment and sustainable even in the intermediate term, much less the long term,” said J. Peter Pham, Africa security analyst at the National Committee on American foreign policy.

The two countries cited by analysts as most likely to offer Gaddafi a bolthole are Eritrea and Zimbabwe -- but if he were to leave Libya as a part of negotiated deal to solve an African problem and avert more bloodshed, the list could well expand.

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has few friends outside his Horn of Africa nation, but Gaddafi is one of them. Isaias has visited Gaddafi regularly and Libya was the only Security Council member to vote against U.N sanctions on Eritrea in 2009.

Isaias described his country’s relations with Libya as “special and historical” during a visit by Libyan media to Asmara last year and said the two countries shared similar views on regional and international issues.

“Eritrea has close relations with Gaddafi and Isaias does not seem concerned about the views of his African colleagues,” said David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Eritrea’s neighbour Ethiopia.

As long as Isaias remains in power, Gaddafi should be safe from any international prosecution.

NEGOTIATED EXIT

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is also a long-standing ally of Gaddafi and has provided a safe haven for former Ethiopian dictator Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam for 20 years.

Mengistu’s rule was brutal. Hundreds of thousands of opponents were slaughtered in his “Red Terror” purges before rebels led by now Prime Minister Meles Zenawi drove him into exile, where he has been shielded by Mugabe ever since.

“He hasn’t turned over Mengistu in 20 years, so he has impeccable credentials for housing tyrants,” said one Africa specialist.

But with the exception of those two countries, analysts say Gaddafi’s options in Africa are limited, and Mugabe might prefer to host Gaddafi under a negotiated deal to score some points on the continent for helping solve an African problem.

Some analysts said South Africa, home to ousted leaders from Madagascar and Haiti, could play a key role in finding a home for Gaddafi -- even though the recent violence unleashed in Libya now makes it unlikely they could be hosts this time.

The two countries have certainly had close ties in the past. When he was released from prison, Nelson Mandela visited Libya to thank Gaddafi for his support in the fight against apartheid.

While Gaddafi’s relations with former President Thabo Mbeki were sometimes testy -- notably over the Libyan leader’s vision for a United States of Africa -- ties have improved under President Jacob Zuma.

“South Africa would be sympathetic: there’s the whole history, the rhetoric, the money to the ANC (African National Congress), and Zuma’s met him on several occasions,” said the Africa specialist.

If African nations can come up with a solution, then some analysts say countries such as Equatorial Guinea or even the Comoros Islands could also end up hosting the man who styled himself Africa’s “King of Kings” -- as island prisons. (Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa)

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