Gaddafi to Burkina Faso? Probably Not: Lessons from Charles Taylor

Where will Gaddafi be found? In a bird's cage? In a toilet bowl? In Burkina Faso? Probably none of the above (Photo: AP)

In the wake of pro-Gaddafi convoys speeding through the Sahara, apparently with cash and gold aboard, there has been a lot of confusion and concern regarding where Colonel Gaddafi is and whether he will seek asylum in Burkina Faso, via Niger.

If Gaddafi does, in fact, seek asylum he will surely be very careful which country he chooses for his refuge. Yet few analysts seem to know the slightest about Burkina Faso. Indeed, there has been zero concrete evidence that the pro-Gaddafi convoys are, in fact, heading to Burkina Faso. Most media reports suggest this could be the case because the capital of Niger is close to the border with Burkina Faso and because Burkina Faso had offered Gaddafi asylum.

Burkina Faso now denies that it had offered Gaddafi asylum and it’s interesting to look at media reports to the contrary which never quote any officials from the country.

Importantly, most analysts appear to have done little to no research on Burkina Faso to see whether the country could feasibly accept Gaddafi. Farouk Chothia, from the BBC African Service, on the contrary, has offered an insightful and coherent analysis:

Burkina Faso, which borders Niger, had been said to have offered him asylum but now denies it.

The landlocked country is heavily dependent on French aid – and is unlikely to follow through on its offer without approval from Paris, analysts say.

Pro-Gaddafi convoys have travelled into Niger while rumours are rampant that Gaddafi may seek asylum in Burkina Faso

Until recently, France was Burkina Faso’s most important economic partner. And, if Chothia is correct in her assertion – and I would suggest she is – that France would have a say in whether or not Burkina Faso accepts Gaddafi, it’s worth asking why journalists did not approach French officials to ask whether they were exerting pressure on Burkina Faso not to accept Gaddafi. That is, of course, if Burkina Faso was thinking about it in the first place.

Chothia goes on suggest that the country in which Gaddafi chooses to seek exile would have to be strong enough to withstand pressure from Western states to have him transferred to Libya or The Hague to stand trial.

Burkina Faso, or other African states such as Zimbabwe, Ethiopia or even South Africa, may be under pressure from other key African States to accept Gaddafi. South Africa and the African Union have yet to recognize the rebels’ National Transitional Council, indicating a continued implicit support for Gaddafi. But any state which decides to give the former Libyan leader safe haven will surely be susceptible to an onslaught of economic and political pressure from states and the UN as well as a barrage of criticism from human rights groups.

While Gaddafi may be seen as “delusional”, it is impossible to run a country for forty years and be absolutely insane. Surely, Gaddafi is keenly aware of Charles Taylor’s story.

In short, Taylor, a Liberian, was a key leader in the notoriously brutal conflict in Sierra Leone for which he has stood trial for orchestrating crimes against humanity, war crimes and other violations of humanitarian law. He subsequently became the President of Liberia which itself was mired in a deadly conflict. During peace negotiations in Ghana to end the civil war in Liberia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) issued an indictment for Taylor. He immediately returned to Liberia, agreed to resign his presidency and fled to Nigeria, which granted him asylum, immunity and refused to extradite him. After about two years, following requests by the new President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and under pressure from the United States and others, Nigeria agreed to send Taylor back to Liberia. Knowing this,  Taylor tried to flee to Cameroon but was arrested at the border, sent to Liberia and was eventually flown to The Hague to be tried by the SCSL.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was sent to The Hague to be tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone

Nigeria was likely much more able to resist external pressure to hand over Taylor than Burkina Faso would be to give up Gaddafi. The costs of resisting political and economic pressures on Burkina Faso, an economically vulnerable and landlocked West African state, would surely be intolerable, even if other African states “pitched in” to help.

It is also worth considering whether all the talk about Burkina Faso may benefit Gaddafi’s manoeuvrings if he chooses to flee to a state more able to guarantee his safety and security. The “tantalizing clues” of Gaddafi’s exile to Burkina Faso may provide effective cover and sufficiently deflect attention for him to move elsewhere.

Of course, I may be wrong. Perhaps Gaddafi will show up this week in Burkina Faso. But it wouldn’t be a particularly wise choice for the leader and Burkina Faso would be unlikely to resist the carrots and sticks of the international community in arresting him (something they’ve now said they would do anyhow).

In the coming days, weeks or months, Gaddafi will surface. But the location of where he ends up is more likely than not to be a surprise. When was the last time an alleged war criminal was ever found precisely where everyone thought he’d be?

UPDATE: Alison Cole over at the Open Society has a post on this issue: Qaddafi: No Asylum Across Libya’s Southern Border. Cole comes to the same conclusion as I have, but primarily based on Niger’s and Burkina Faso’s legal obligations under the Rome Statute.

About Mark Kersten

Mark Kersten is a consultant at the Wayamo Foundation, a Senior Researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and a law student at McGill University Law School. He is also author of the book, 'Justice in Conflict - The Effects of the International Criminal Court's Interventions on Ending Wars and Building Peace' (Oxford University Press, 2016).
This entry was posted in African Union (AU), Amnesty, Burkina Faso, Exile, International Criminal Court (ICC), Liberia, Libya, Libya and the ICC, Sierra Leone, Special Court for SIerra Leone (SCSL), The Tripoli Three (Tripoli3). Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Gaddafi to Burkina Faso? Probably Not: Lessons from Charles Taylor

  1. A very sensible analysis. As a retired hack, I find it interesting to trace the origins of the widely reported “offer of asylum” from Burkina. It seems all based on the Reuters interview with the FM. Its not clear that he even used the word “exile”, which sems based on this quote:

    “In the name of peace, I think we will take, with our partners in the international community, whatever steps are necessary,” Bassolet said, without giving any other details.

    And exile went to asylum as fast as you can drive across the deserts of Niger.

  2. Mark Kersten says:

    Thanks for the comment and kind words Jonathan! It’s amazing that the whole asylum in Burkina Faso has no quotes other than the very nuanced statement you mention. Now, when it’s back in the news, virtually every media source has simply repeated it without fact-checking.

  3. westthea says:

    The only arch war criminals are the members of NATO and Arab League who carried out the slaughter in Libya and brought chaos to Libya.

    T. West

  4. Pingback: Lite Follow-up på KONY 2012, Internationell Rättvisa och en God Nyhet « Paulus Indomitus

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