GULF – September 2020
Qatar Steps Up Political Efforts in Libya and Mali
After some years of low-profile approach, Qatar has openly re-entered the Libyan political and geopolitical theatre. This is related to the rising support of Turkey, Doha’s main ally, to the Government of National Accord (GNA), as well as to the Qatari willingness to counter the rival Egyptian-Emirati-Saudi alliance in the area stretching from West Africa, North Africa to the Mediterranean Sea.
On the 17th of August 17, the defence ministers of GNA, Turkey and Qatar signed a tripartite military agreement in Tripoli. According to the deal, Qatar will send military advisors and personnel to train GNA’s forces; Libyan recruits will also be trained at Qatari and Turkish military colleges. Moreover, a joint military centre is to be established in Misrata, plus military training facilities on the Libyan territory. On January 2020, Turkey sent soldiers to support GNA’s forces in Libya and had previously signed a maritime boundaries agreement with Tripoli (November 2019).
In Libya and in the whole North Africa-West Africa complex, Qatar’s geostrategic ambitions combine with counter-alignments aimed at containing Middle Eastern rivals. As Turkey is eying the Libyan bases of Misrata (naval) and al-Watiya (air) [Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu, “Turkey eyes Libya bases for lasting military footholds: source”, Reuters, June 15, 2020] to enhance its strategic depth in the Mediterranean, Qatar would also lean on Turkish outposts to get access to the area, especially for LNG export. As a matter of fact, the EastMed pipeline project directly supported by Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Italy (and endorsed by the United Arab Emirates, UAE) would diminish, at capacity, Turkish and Qatari gas export to Europe.
Doha has been trying to strengthen its influence also in West Africa and the Saheli belt. In 2018, Qatar supplied armoured vehicles to Mali (24 Storm 4×4 APC armoured vehicles donated in late 2018) and the Qatari General Ahmed Mohammed Al Ghaffari stated that “there will now be permanent cooperation between our armies in the fields of training, unit equipment and military exchanges” [TRT World, “Mali army gets Qatari armoured vehicles”, December 28, 2018], a country member also of the G5 Sahel organization. The Storm is manufactured by the Qatari company Stark Motors, based in Doha and owned by Abdulhadi Mana Al Hajri, which since 2017 has provided armaments also to Jordan, Somalia and Burkina Faso.
After Emir Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani toured Mali and West of Africa in late 2017, Doha opened an embassy in Bamako: Mali was one of the few African countries who did not break diplomatic relations with Qatar during the GCC crisis. In August 2020, Qatar participated at the extraordinary meeting of La Francophonie focussed on the situation in Mali, after the military coup occurred in Bamako on August 18, 2020.
Maritime, port and energy interests push Qatar to increase its political presence in Libya, beside the Turkish ally, in Mali and in the broader West Africa. The competition with Gulf rivals, especially the UAE, has been also fostering Doha to accelerate on this path.
Eleonora Ardemagni – Associate Research Fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), a Teaching Assistant at the Catholic University (Milan) and Adjunct Professor at Aseri (Graduate School of Economics and International Relations).