DAKAR (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi is losing friends in Africa, the continent where his largesse once bought him the title “King of Kings” but which is now turning to other foreign allies to help shape its future.
Moves by countries including Senegal, Mauritania, Liberia, Chad and Gambia to distance themselves from Gaddafi are partly a gamble that NATO-backed rebels will finally succeed in ending his four decades of authoritarian and quixotic rule.
But they also show Gaddafi’s waning role in a region where foreign investor appetite, trade ties with Asia and a domestic yearning for democracy are all eclipsing the lure of Libyan petrodollars and weakening the old-boy networks they propped up.
“The rest of the continent has passed him by. The favors he can call in are few and far between,” said Tara O’Connor of London-based Africa Risk Consulting.
Most of the 50-plus members of the African Union group back a neutral AU policy calling for a ceasefire and a “roadmap” out of the civil war sparked by a February riot over human rights.
But efforts to maintain a single African line have been smashed by a vanguard of countries which, encouraged by NATO members France and the United States, have either called for Gaddafi to go or explicitly thrown in their lot with the rebels.
Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade last week became the first sub-Saharan African leader to travel to the rebel stronghold city of Benghazi to recognize the CNT opposition movement, and has also received CNT leaders in the Senegalese capital Dakar.
Equally significant is a statement last week attributed to Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz — who forms part of the AU mediation panel on Libya — in which he said Gaddafi’s departure had become necessary.
Chad, which has faced CNT accusations that its solders have fought alongside pro-Gaddafi troops, has now made clear that it does not support Gaddafi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after talks with its foreign minister last week.
Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf severed diplomatic ties with Libya on Tuesday, declaring that Gaddafi had lost legitimacy, while the tiny West African state of Gambia best known as a beach and jungle tourist destination has done likewise.
For most, the economic impact of ditching Gaddafi will be surprisingly limited.
Despite the grandiose promise of the five-year-old Libya Africa Portfolio for Investments (LAP) to channel billions of dollars into “natural resources, technology, tourism, real-estate, services and financials,” Reuters reporters across Africa say many of the projects barely got off the ground.
Such is the case for a $30 million Libyan project to promote local production of rice in Liberia and the renovation of Monrovia’s Ducor Hotel, one of the few five-star hotels in Africa but which fell victim to the 1990s civil war there.
A U.N. freeze on Libyan transactions prompted neighboring Niger this week to revoke a $68 million telecom deal with Libya’s LAP Green Network, citing non-respect of the terms of the transaction.
“He does not have access to his external accounts so he can’t funnel cash to his old crony network in the Sahel,” Stratfor analyst Mark Schroeder said of the lavish cash gifts Gaddafi has used to curry favor with local political elites.
The African leaders which Gaddafi must deal with now are savvier and more aware of their central role in the global scramble for resources than they were a few years back.
Having survived the 2009 financial crisis largely intact, Africa is sufficiently alluring to investors that pan-African private equity fund Helios Investment Partners this week closed its latest fund at its $900 million cap.
China, now Africa’s largest trading partner, is forging infrastructure and resource accords across the continent, such as March’s deal to build over 1,300 km (800 miles) of railway in Chad and talks on a long-term fisheries pact with Mauritania.
Gaddafi holds little sway with Africa’s new giants such as South Africa, Nigeria or Egypt, and his past attempts to wield influence have irked some — notably Sierra Leone and Liberia, where he bankrolled the rebels who plunged them into war.
While Africans salute his role in helping movements such as the ANC in apartheid South Africa, he is seen as out of step with the longstanding effort south of the Sahara to nurture multi-party politics — years before any “Arab Spring.”
“He has done good things in the past,” said independent Senegalese political analyst Babacar Justin Ndiaye.
“But he is not a democrat — there is not a single African intellectual who can say now that what he is doing is good.”
Widespread African unease about NATO bombs on the continent — just weeks after the Ivory Coast conflict was ended only with French army intervention — will mean that many leaders will refrain from public calls for Gaddafi to go. South Africa’s Jacob Zuma this week slated NATO for seeking regime change.
Patrick Smith of the Africa Confidential newsletter said nearby countries such as Niger, Chad, Mauritania and Mali must also balance policy toward Gaddafi, knowing the conflict has already raised concerns over small arms, mercenaries and out-of-work migrants flooding into a fragile neighborhood.
“Gaddafi can still create mayhem in the region,” he warned.
Additional reporting by Laurent Prieur in Nouakchott; Abdoulaye Massalaatchi in Niamey; Madjiasra Nako in N'Djamena; Diadie Ba in Dakar; Alphonso Toweh in Monrovia; Pap Saine in Gambia; Editing by Giles Elgood