September 5, 2008

Italy Pays Libya $5B in Reparations

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In an unprecedented political move, Italy has agreed to pay $5 billion in reparations to Libya for its 32-year occupation of the country over half a century ago. According to the BBC, Libya is the first African country to be compensated for colonial rule.
Libya, which seceded to the Italians in 1911 from the Ottoman Empire, became a unified Italian colony in the early 1930s. Italy relinquished claims to the country in 1947, and Libya officially declared independence in 1951.
“The question that arises is whether or not this will set a precedent,” said Prof. Muna Ndulo, law, and director of the Institute for African Development. “I don’t think it will. Italy didn’t have many colonies. If you’re talking about Britain or France who had many, it would be a different situation,” Ndulo said.
The media has speculated that other Italian colonies like Somalia and Eithiopia may now have grounds to seek reparation. According to Ndulo, the precedent may create an opportunity, but the lack of organization within the former colonies may hinder attempts to seek compensation.
“Maybe Ethiopia will say, ‘since you compensated Libya, we deserve the same’. If you believe in the principal you have to do the same for all of [the countries]. But Somalia is so disorganized, I don’t believe it has the capacity to seek reparations.”
Some believe that the gesture may be purely superficial, considering the extent to which colonial rule affected the countries in question.
“Italy’s gesture toward Libya is symbolic only,” said Prof. Emeritus Milton Esman, government. “It would be impossible for the former colonial powers to reimburse their former colonies for even a tiny fragment of the wealth they extracted over many decades, in some cases even centuries. Imagine Britain attempting to reimburse India, France reimbursing Indo-China, Japan reimbursing Korea, Belgium reimbursing The Congo, Spain reimbursing Mexico or Peru! By any calculation the sums would be enormous.”
Ndulo believes that the countries should aim to repair the ramifications of colonization, as opposed to simply paying a sum as a token of good will.
“As to whether there should be compensations for colonization, realistically, what should be the focus are the problems that arose in these countries because of colonization,” Ndulo said. “The effects like the lack of education and human resource development are much larger issues. It would have a greater effect if these areas were addressed.”
According to Ndulo, Italy’s reparations should be aimed at strengthening Libya’s educational system, which was essentially put on hold during colonization.
“If I were the one to give compensation, I would prefer to give infrastructure help. A master plan in education for example,” Ndulo said. “During the colonial period there were no efforts to build universities. They are there now, but they lack resources which affects both the quality and number of students they graduate.”
For Ndulo, more is necessary than a refurbishment of the internal universities.
“First, you need to strengthen the education within the country, and secondly create opportunities for students to study in Western countries. Then those students will be able to return and train others,” Ndulo said.
According to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the money will be allocated in $200 million increments over the next 25 years via infrastructure investments. One major project will be the construction of a coastal highway connecting Egypt to Tunisia.
“The highway will lead to more investment, and benefit the country by generating more jobs and increased revenue,” Ndulo said.
$500 million of the reparations will go towards increased border security to impede the illegal immigration of North Africans into Italy. Libya has over 1,056 miles of coastline with direct access to Italy, forcing Berlusconi to declare state of emergency regarding the drastic number of illegal immigrants landing on Italian shores.
A major concern for Ndulo is whether or not the Italians have ensured that the reparations will land in the right hands.
“The fact that we are dealing with a non-democratic state and one that has not shown itself to be accountable presents an issue,” Ndulo said. “I hope Italy has taken enough measures to ensure that this money will benefit the country, and not just Gaddafi and his family.”
There are already signs of contention surrounding Libyan leader and guide of the revolution Muammar Gaddafi. Reuters published an article on Sept. 2 in which Gaddafi claimed Italy had agreed that it would not be used as a base for any hostile action against Libbya.
However, yesterday afternoon, Gianfranco Fini, president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, denied that Italy had ever made such an agreement. Some have taken this misunderstanding by Gaddafi as a sign of trouble to come.
“I think that Gaddafi is an up-to-no-good dictator. He always misbehaves and does whatever he can to get what he wants. The international community really doesn’t do anything about it. They play into his game. Italy pays reparations, and now the U.S. is willing to talk to him,” said Delbert Abi-Abdallah grad. “Condoleeza Rice is going to the region to visit him because he suspended his nuclear program, despite the fact that he is responsible for the deaths of countless of Americans.”
Rice will be the highest-ranking official to visit Libya since 1953. According to Al-Jazeera, Rice’s visit follows Libya’s agreement to compensate U.S. victims of Libyan attacks in the 1980s. U.S.-Libya relations were suspended in 1981 after allegations of Libyan support of terrorism, and were restored in 2004 when Gaddafi pronounced that the country would no longer seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
“He is manipulating other countries,” Abi-Abdallah concluded.