A campaign by Muammer Gaddafi to rally diplomatic and military support in sub-Saharan African has won only limited success.
Senior African officials told the Financial Times that Colonel Gaddafi and his officials had been on the telephone, cajoling and threatening allies to remain loyal in his hour of need.
The Libyan regime is also reported to have sought to recruit African fighters, including from among militant groups in Niger, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Chad that have been supported by Col Gaddafi in the past.
But at least as many African leaders appear to be hoping for the demise of Libya’s maverick president as he has African supporters anxious that the flow of Libyan petrodollars might soon dry up.
Col Gaddafi has commercial, military and political footprints across much of the continent, where he has concentrated efforts at extending Libyan influence since giving up on promoting Arab unity in the 1990s. He has channelled billions of dollars of investment into as many as 31 African states and provided backing to numerous African politicians and leaders.
However, the complex web of allegiances he has cultivated both among governments and paramilitary and insurgent groups, and a tendency to deploy bullying tactics as well as munificence, have left him with as many enemies as friends.
His aggressive strategy to promote pan-African integration has also rankled with his peers, who see it as a poorly disguised bid to become the first leader of a putative United States of Africa. Col Gaddafi is credited with providing about 15 per cent of the financing for the running of the African Union by paying the dues of poorer member states.
The support he has won through his largesse – and the chords he often struck with his anti-western and anti-imperial rhetoric – has frequently been squandered through his eccentric, domineering style.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda was quoted last week berating Col Gaddafi for his arrogance and meddling in the affairs of other states. Another African head of state told the Financial Times, on condition of anonymity: “The [African Union] could not take any decision without him trying to intervene.”
Unlike Arab states, however, the AU has opposed the imposition of a no-fly zone as a response to the threat to civilians posed by Tripoli’s forces – partly as a result of Col Gaddafi calling in favours from indebted client states. Instead, it has attempted, unsuccessfully as yet, to promote a negotiated solution.
None of the three African countries on the UN Security Council – South Africa, Nigeria and Gabon – owe him any favours, and all voted for the UN resolution calling for “all necessary measures” to be taken to protect civilian lives. African states were also instrumental in persuading Beijing not to veto the resolution, according to officials.
Several presidents, including Mr Museveni and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, have strongly opposed the western air assault. Yet the South African and Ugandan governments have also frozen Libyan assets, and diplomats report that Sudan has facilitated some western air sorties in the past week.
In Mali on Friday, thousands of pro-Gaddafi supporters rallied in Bamako, chanting anti-western slogans – a reflection of the depth of Libyan influence in the Sahel region.
Menas Associates, a UK risk consultancy that has been covering Libya for 25 years, estimates that up to 5,000 African fighters may have been brought in.
Some African governments worry that a wounded yet surviving Col Gaddafi could become an even more destabilising force, particularly if he lashes out in states immediately to Libya’s south.
But Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, told the FT last week: “I don’t think it could be worse if he survives. Probably he’ll be more preoccupied with his own problems.”