With NATO ever more confident of, and explicit about, deposing Muammar Gaddafi and the Libyan leader losing even some of his longest-standing supporters in Africa, the question increasingly becomes not whether he will go but, assuming he survives, where. Here’s five possible retirement homes for the 69-year-old.
1. Zimbabwe. Even if many of Gaddafi’s other African friends are advising him to go after 42 years, 86-year-old Robert Mugabe – now into his fourth decade in power himself – remains a staunch supporter. The Zimbabwean and Libyan regimes have long been more than just friends. In the 1970s, Gaddafi supported Mugabe’s rebels in their fight against the white supremacist leadership of the former Rhodesia, as he did many African revolutions. The two leaders also share the same antipathy towards the West, which has imposed sanctions on both. Though Gaddafi’s rapprochement (until this year) with the West irked Mugabe, ties between Harare and Tripoli remain strong. Economic links between the two regimes stalled over Zimbabwe’s inability to pay for Libyan oil, but the Gaddafi family personally owns real estate and other corporate investments in Zimbabwe. Finally, Mugabe is a practised host to fellow autocrats: Harare is already home to former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Miriam.
2. Saudi Arabia. Exile in Zimbabwe might be logical, but it may not be Gaddafi’s first choice. Although they accepted his money, few African leaders ever bought into Gaddafi’s declarations of African brotherhood, noting he discovered his enthusiasm for Africa only after his ambitions to foster pan-Arab unity were rebuffed. Gaddafi’s own attachment to tent living and deserts suggest a strong preference for the Arab world. And here precedent strongly favors Saudi Arabia, which became home to former Ugandan despot Idi Amin, who died there in 2003, former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has stayed during periods of exile from his homeland in the last decade, and, since January, the deposed president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Still, just as the growth of international law means a villa in the south of France is ever less of an option, life in the kingdom is not as secure as it once was. This month Ben Ali felt compelled to issue a statement through a French lawyer denouncing allegations of corruption and criminality by the new regime in Tunisia, which claims to have seized weapons, money and drugs from the presidential palace at Carthage. Tunisian authorities are also demanding Ben Ali’s extradition and say they are probing accusations of murder, abuse of power, trafficking of archaeological artefacts and money laundering. In addition, several European countries have frozen the family’s assets. For Gaddafi, what might rule out Saudi Arabia from the start is that he and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud dislike each other. “You are propelled by fibs towards the grave and you were made by Britain and protected by the US,” Gaddafi told the king in 2009.
3. North Korea. The International Criminal Court’s announcement this week that it has evidence of rape being used as a weapon of war by Gaddafi’s soldiers raises the possibility of an eventual war crimes trial for Gaddafi in The Hague. That rules out many African states, particularly Nigeria, which took in former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor in 2003 only to arrest him in 2006, an action which led to his ongoing trial in The Hague. Zimbabwe is a good place to hide from any ICC indictment: Mugabe never signed up to the ICC and the court consequently has no jurisdiction there. But if it’s isolation Gaddafi wants, he couldn’t do better than the hermit state of North Korea. Plus, Tripoli and Pyongyang are old allies: when Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program, tests on the processed uranium it surrendered to international inspectors indicated the material came from North Korea.
4. Venezuela. Concerns about the ICC narrow Gaddafi’s options considerably. This week Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade appealed to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to step down, saying he could “be one of those who help you pull out of political life.” But though Libya and Seneral have long-standing ties – Wade was a strong backer of Gaddafi’s call for a United States of Africa – Senegal is also an ICC signatory and would be legally-bound to act on any ICC arrest request. Likewise, South Africa might appear a likely candidate at face value. It has played host to exiled former leaders Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti and Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar; former president Nelson Mandela stayed loyal to Gaddafi out of gratitude for the latter’s support for the struggle against apartheid; Gaddafi has substantial investments in South Africa; South Africa has a history of opposing the West at the United Nations; and during the latest crisis, President Jacob Zuma has emerged as a key mediator between Gaddafi and the outside world. But South Africa, an emerging BRICS power keen to expand its influence across Africa and beyond, is also unlikely to choose to flout any ICC indictment. (The possibility of arrest has, for instance, persuaded ICC indictee and Sudanese President Omar al Bashir to avoid touching down in Johannesburg.) Much less likely to care what the ICC thinks, or anybody else for that matter, is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has visited Libya several times, has a football stadium there is named in his honor and actively enjoys annoying the West.
5. Libya. Staying in Libya – alive or dead, like his son Saif al-Arab and three grandsons, killed in a NATO airstrike in April – is a real option, perhaps even the most likely. No matter how he has treated its people, Gaddafi loves Libya, loves the bedouin life of the Sahara and whatever remaining support he enjoys is strongest there. “I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents,” he said in February, vowing he would fight “to my last drop of blood” and “die as a martyr at the end.” That may be his choice. But it is also one among few others.