Thomas Meaney writes:
The Sahara is one of the few places on earth no one has been foolish enough to try to conquer. There have, however, been attempts, over the centuries, to govern it. In Ghat, one of the last Libyan towns in the Fezzan before the desert takes over, there are vestiges of efforts to bring the land to order: Bedouin trails that date from the Middle Ages; a rough-hewn fortress, started by the Ottomans and finished by Italian Fascists, that overlooks the hollowed-out ruins of a medina below. The traders, militiamen, shop owners and tour operators here have a range of views about Europe’s rekindled interest in their region. For some, it is the promise of a better livelihood: to get their share of the vast amount of money the EU is now pouring into North Africa, or at least to recoup the losses that followed Nato’s destruction of Gaddafi’s distribution networks. (When Gaddafi’s son was released from prison two years ago, the citizens of Ghat celebrated in the streets with gunfire.) For others, new electronic fences, biometric scanning stations, military outposts and an increasing number of European soldiers are signs that delicate circuits of kinship and commerce are being disrupted. At a makeshift café in a petrol station on the outskirts of Ghat I met a Tuareg man associated with a local militia. ‘They get tired, they want to leave,’ he said of the European forces, as if their arrival was a nuisance rather than a paradigm shift.