Mr. Sissouma bristled at the idea that Libya was buying friends. “That’s not the case,” he said. “Libya has accepted to share its resources with others. Other African oil producers, like Nigeria, don’t do this.”
But Colonel Qaddafi’s involvement in sub-Saharan Africa, said J. Peter Pham, editor of the Journal of the Middle East and Africa, has been “nothing short of catastrophic.”
His meddling in Sudan’s Darfur region and arming of Arab militias there helped lead to the rise of the notorious janjaweed, armed groups that have terrorized civilians for years. His support of the former strongman Charles Taylor in Liberia added to the bloodshed and mayhem in that country. His backing of various rebel factions across the Sahara has destabilized Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and others, allowing Al Qaeda to grab a foothold in the vast, unpatrolled deserts.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he recruited thousands of Africans into his Islamic Legion, an experimental Muslim army that failed on the battlefield in places like Chad and then sent so many young men drifting back to their home countries embittered — and heavily armed.
The various African wars that Colonel Qaddafi helped stir up “took hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions, and their ripple effects continue to this day,” Mr. Pham said.
Mr. Sissouma’s response to such criticism: “Nobody’s an angel.”
Many members of the nomadic Touaregs, who roam across the deserts of Mali, Niger, Algeria and Libya, see Colonel Qaddafi as their champion. For the past 40 years, the Touaregs have rebelled, on and off, against the governments of Mali and Niger, provoking brutal anti-Touareg campaigns. Touaregs in Mali spoke of government soldiers poisoning wells and pulling Touareg men off buses and making them eat their national identification cards at gunpoint and then arresting or shooting them for not having any identification.
When thousands of Touaregs fled into Libya in the 1970s and 1980s, Colonel Qaddafi welcomed them with open arms. He gave them food and shelter. He called them brothers. He also started training them as soldiers. Touareg elders here say that many of the so-called African mercenaries Colonel Qaddafi is now relying on to suppress the revolts are actually Touaregs who have been serving in the Libyan Army for years, not new arrivals.
Still, Touareg elders in Mali and Niger have also said that in the past few weeks hundreds of former rebels have crossed the porous borders into Libya to fight for Colonel Qaddafi. Most are said to travel in pickup trucks, unarmed, appearing as migrant laborers, only to be armed once they get to Libya.