Tag Archives: Joanne Sharp

Libya: Bound in Europe’s Sphere

441px-Visita_del_RE_a_BengasiBy Benjamin Sacks

Libya’s struggles continue to haunt the international community. Well over a year after Muammar Muhammad al-Qaddafi’s death at the hands of rebels forces in Sirte, midway between Tripoli and Benghazi, militant and sectarian groups compete with each other for control of key provinces and national resources. Last Thursday, an estimated one hundred militiamen disrupted proceedings of the Libyan National Congress, protesting the government’s proposal to “purge Qaddafi-era officials from public office”. Militia leaders noted that they agreed with the proposal, but feared that the National Congress would seek to dilute the bill’s efficacy in order to protect their own interests. The British Embassy waded into the protests, reminding Libyan political groups that the National Congress must be allowed to conduct its business safely, democratically  and without harassment: “These people were chosen to represent Libya and it is important to give them space and security so that they may make their decisions”. The Embassy’s commentary was unsurprising, given both the United Kingdom’s recent involvement in the outcome of the Libyan Civil War, as well as Europe’s longstanding interest in Libya, its land, and peoples.

In the December 2012 issue of The Geographical Journal, James D Sidaway (University of Singapore) recounted Europe’s twentieth century predilection with Libya. His account artfully and succinctly contextualized Britain and France’s most recent intervention within the backdrop of often-complicated European-Libyan interests. Sidaway described Libya’s twentieth and twenty-first century geopolitics as “Subaltern”, deliberately borrowing from Joanne Sharp’s 2011 Geoforum article, where state regimes implement policies largely designed to sustain the regime’s survival, not dramatically enhance the populace’s welfare. Some of the blame for this, certainly, rested with Qaddafi’s egoistic desires to control Libya for the rest of his life (and beyond, through his sons). But the initial enthusiasm for his regime, and indeed the impetus behind his removal forty-odd years on, was to alter the nation’s relationship with Europe.

In the 1960s, Qaddafi took advantage of decades of nationalist anger against Europe and the United States to gain power. From the 1920s to the end of the Second World War, Libya was a proxy state under the control of Fascist Italy. Benito Mussolini envisioned Libya as the cornerstone in a “new Roman empire, by means of Italian settlement and planning and resting on the repression of all revolts and organised resistance” (297). Italian colonisation sought to impose European, not indigenous conceptions of order and society, a policy many Libyans continued to resent long after Mussolini’s capture and execution in 1945. But the end of international war did not mark the end of Libya’s entanglement with the West. After the Italian withdrawal, the British and American installed Idris, the Allied-backed leader of wartime Cyrenaica (eastern Libya), as the first monarch of the new Kingdom of Libya. “For the best part of [the next] two decades”, Sidaway argued, “Libya’s post-colonial trajectory was exemplary in the eyes of Western powers” (298). Idris’s foreign and domestic policies alike sought to maintain the elite’s status quo. Although Qaddafi radically shifted Libya’s path towards nationalism and secular Islamic authority after the 1969 coup, he too demonstrated a tendency to prioritise measures intended, first and foremost, to protect his regime’s stability vis-à-vis the West and its allies within Libya. Qaddafi’s Libya thus continued to be governed (and defined) as a response to European and American behaviour. Even as the Qaddafi regime slid towards collapse, its leader looked not to internal negotiations, but rather to Europe for a solution amenable, of course, to his interests (299). Support was not forthcoming, in part because the Libyan opposition revolted against Qaddafi, in part, because of his anti-Europe, anti-democratic stances. For better or worse, then, Libya has long been, and remains, in Europe’s strong gravitational pull.

The difficulty, as Sidaway reminded us, is that Libya’s complicated history, both with Europe and its African neighbours, has done much to erase memories of the region’s violent past (and present). In the 2008 festivities marking a formal rapprochement between Libya and Italy, for instance, few officials wished to discuss Qaddafi’s extensive human rights violations, or then-Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s leaked comments on the accord’s economic benefits.

60-world2 Chris Stephen, Libyan national congress attacked by rogue militiasThe Guardian, 7 March 2013.

books_icon James D Sidaway, 2012, Subaltern Geopolitics: Libya in the Mirror of EuropeThe Geographical Journal 178.4, 296-301.

books_icon N Barbour, 1950, The Arabs of Cyrenaica: Review, The Sanusi of Cyrenaica by E E Evans-PritchardThe Geographical Journal 115.1/3, 96-98.

Postcolonialism, Responsibility, and ‘The Other’

By Benjamin Sacks

‘Responsibility is increasingly summoned as a route to living ethically in a postcolonial world’ (p. 418). So begins Pat Noxolo’s (University of Sheffield), Parvati Raghuram’s (Open University), and Clare Madge’s (University of Leicester) astute and occasionally scathing discussion of the current state of responsibility to and within developing countries. Published in the July 2012 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, ‘Unsettling Responsibility: Postcolonial Interventions’ unravels traditional conceptualisations of responsibility and agency, at once highlighting recent, significant scholarship in the field and discussing possible new approaches to empowering peoples in developing countries.

Postcolonialism is often understood as a linear ‘give-and-take’; an attempt to rebalance wealth, resources, and power from highly developed, imperial states and their former colonies. But this singular approach is problematic at best. Joanne Sharp and John Briggs, for instance, both geographers at the University of Glasgow, admitted in a jointly-authored 2007 Geographical Journal article that they remained deeply divided over why postcolonial development had failed. Briggs, ensconced in development studies, pointed to ground level problems in developing states. Sharp, conversely, attacked the ‘dominating universalizing discourse of the West, and particularly the extent to which it suggests that it alone has the answer to development problems’ (p. 6). Their disagreement underscored the fundamental problem with the pervading model: the West empowered ‘The Other’ as and when it saw fit; the developing, or ‘Third World’, as victims, took whatever the West could offer.

‘Unsettling Responsibility’ seeks to alter this approach. The authors cite Doreen Massey’s (2004) and Matthew Sparke’s (2007) criticisms as catalysts for a new, multilinear system where ‘responsibility’ and ‘agency’ – both contested terms – are identified in developed and developing countries, supported, and adjusted accordingly (pp. 418-20). Responsibility is neither solely in the hands of the West nor in those of the developing world. Instead, responsibility and accountability operate on international, national, and local tiers, between developed and developing constituencies, various economic and social sectors, via contradictory legal structures, ‘ethical and moral economies’, and certainly through differing academic and administrative systems. Highlighting such factors, of course, complicates postcolonial discourse. In so doing, however, Noxolo, Raghuram, and Madge establish a potent framework that is applicable in a comprehensive range of situations, from Africa to Asia and the Caribbean.

Postcolonialism is an ironic term, for it implies that society has moved beyond colonial attitudes and aspirations, and is actively pursuing equality amongst countries’ standard of living. The number of Western-led interventions since the Second World War suggests otherwise. Further, ‘theories of responsibility’ utilised at ‘a high level of abstraction’ have only muddied geopolitical and anthropological analysis (p. 420). The authors recall G C Spivak’s Other Asias (2008) tenet that globalisation’s interconnectivity has created a plethora of ‘hugely uneven global relationships’ between the Global North and Global South. But importantly, responsibility and agency do not rest entirely with one side or the other: these relationships, however lopsided they may be, are the result of actors’ behaviour and decisions in both developed and developing states. In order to better analyse individual relationships of responsibility and dependency, Noxolo, Raghuram, and Madge contend that the language and processes surrounding ascription and agency must change, and that support should be provided where needed across the entire postcolonial relationship.

Pat Noxolo, Parvati Raghuram, and Clare Madge, ‘Unsettling Responsibility: Postcolonial Interventions‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 37, Issue 3, pages 418-429, July 2012

Joanne Sharp and John Briggs, ‘Postcolonialism and Development: New Dialogues?The Geographical Journal, Volume 172, Issue 1, pages 6-9, March 2006

Area Content Alert: Volume 43, Issue 4 (December 2011)

The latest issue of Area is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

Continue reading