As winter approaches and the conflict in Ukraine shows no respite, Libya is reportedly joining the fray of Maghreb countries aspiring to act as a go-between linking untapped reserves in sub-Saharan Africa to nervous markets in Europe. In a press conference held on 24 September the Minister of Oil and Gas of the Government of National Unity (GNU) Mohammed al-Aoun revealed that a study about a gas pipeline connecting Nigeria and Libya to ultimately serve the European markets has been submitted to the cabinet. Aoun’s advisor Ahmed Elghaber said that the pipeline, which is supposed to pass through Niger, has already been discussed at a ministerial level, with Libyan and Nigerian delegations exchanging preliminary notes at a recent meeting of the African Petroleum Producers Organisation (APPO).
Both Aoun and his Nigerian counterpart, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Timipre Sylva, took part in the 8thAfrican Petroleum Congress and Exhibition (also known as CAPE VIII) held by APPO in Luanda, Angola, last May. Aoun and Sylva also discussed ‘developing joint plans for oil and gas transmission networks in the African continent’ when they met on the sidelines of the Nigeria-Africa Summit for Natural Resources and Energy Investment held in early June in Abuja. Engaged in a power struggle with the chairman of the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) Mustafa Sanalla that only ended with the replacement of the latter in favour of former governor of the Central Bank of Libya Farhat Bengdara in July, Aoun’s personal diplomacy has been certainly visible in the past few months. He has reached out to potential partners, discussing joint projects and reassuring international markets about Libya’s oil output which, not incidentally, resumed only after NOC changed hands.
In light of the above, Aoun’s absence at the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on energy cooperation between the GNU and Turkey on 3 October came as a surprise, to the oil minister at least. Replaced for the occasion by the Minister of Economy and Trade Mohammed al-Hwej, Aoun reiterated his reservations to the preliminary deal, confirming the uneasiness of certain political milieus in Libya to deepening relations with Ankara. The speaker of the House of Representatives Agila Saleh and the Prime Minister of the rival Government of National Stability Fathi Bashagha were vehemently opposed, as well as the anti-Turkey axis emerged in the East Med in the aftermath of another controversial MoU signed in 2019 between Ankara and authorities in Tripoli.
These developments beg questions about the soundness of the normalisation wave going on in the region and true extent of the regional détente. They also have important implications for a volatile Libya, whose instability seriously undermines its potential role as energy supplier in uncertain times. Only in part appeased by the removal of Sanalla, which resulted in the end of the oil blockade imposed since April by his Libyan National Army, General Khalifa Haftar has so far remained eloquently silent, but the eventual demise of Aoun could change the calculations in al-Rajma. It could also display the frail basis on which the announcement about the Nigeria-Libya gas pipeline has been made, exactly at a time when regional competitors, including Algeria and Morocco, are seriously speeding up their own projects to export Nigerian gas to Europe.