October 23, 2011

Gaddafi the enigma: A villain or a hero?

*How not to suppress revolution


There is an African saying that it is a stubborn fly that accompanies the corpse to the grave. This  best captures the death  of Libya’s  leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi who met his end in his home town of Sirte, killed like a rat.

Ironically, Gaddafi had, for eight months, denounced the rebels that took up arms to resist his 42-year old dictatorship as “rats” but in the end he was smoked out of a tunnel by Libya’s revolution cry fighters backed by NATO airstrikes.

Born in Sirte 69 years ago to the Gadafi tribe in Libya,  Gaddafi, whose name has as many variants as the man’s mercurial nation, captured power in 1969 when he toppled King Idriss by driving a tank into the palace and mesmerising the monarch.

His leadership was as eventful as it was controversial. He began as a pan Arabist and supported the cause of Arab people especially in the conflicts with Israel and its  Western backers. Gaddafi graduated to becoming a pan Africanist at least, so was his posturing, as he funded the liberation movements in Africa, funded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)  and engineered the transformation of the organisation into African Union. He floated the concept of a United States of Africa where he will become the head of state.

Gaddafi was a pain in the skin of the Western nations who were as ambivalent in their relations with him as they were driven by their greed to benefit from his massive oil wealth.

In the end, Gaddafi could neither manage his ego nor his foolhardiness. His futile attempt to resist the wave of revolution that was ignited by Mohammed Bouazzi, the 26-year old Tunisian whose self immolation triggered off the Arab spring was a fatal hubris which Gaddafi and his family tried to resist in bloody battle.

The revolution swept off Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt threatens Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and many more. The revolutions began as mass protests against iron fisted regimes, then  graduated to military engagements.

The case of Libya was made worse by the cronyism that became the leadership style of Gaddafi who appointed his children and  son-in-law into sensitive security positions  in government as his strategy to secure his despotic leadership.

Of all the North Africa, Arab and European countries that have witnessed the wave of mass protests in their domain, perhaps Libya had been the bloodiest, with a civil war that Sail  Al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son,   promised his compatriot. Saif is the most politically influential of all  Gaddafi’s children. He  was stubborn and boastful as his late father, and had no compunctions about spilling as much Libyan blood as he could, to keep his father in power.

Saif was seen in many quarters as the  likely successor  to  his father. But there were potential threats from his senior brothers Mohammed and Hannibal.

The end game came for Col Gaddafi in February, 2011 when a civil war broke out in his country with rebel forces beginning their battle in Benghazi, the country’s second largest city in the western part  of the country with six million people with powerful tribal linkages. Gaddafi responded with a heavy hand and massacred thousnads of his country men and women. A National Transition Council  (NTC) was formed in March, with defectors from Gaddafi’s government as the leading lights.

The challenges of managing a revolution
The NTC, which appointed Mustafa Abdel Jalil as its chairman, a former judge in the Gaddafi regime, was a conglomeration of defectors namely from the public foreign and military services. They had the challenge of finding  a common ground to rest their opposition.

The NTC had to manage the personality rivalry, mistrust and different agenda among its members. It had to find a formula  to manage its troops drawn largely from ordinary people, men and women, who had a common goal of ending the 42 year old regime of  Gaddafi. Far and above all, the NTC had to ensure that the battle did not degenerate into ethnic reprisals, which would have left Libya a divide country, to the advantage of  Gaddafi.

The NTC got  a  moral booster when it secured the endorsement of France, the first European and major world power to back the rebels. France rallied other countries within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)  as well as the United Nations to impose a no – fly zone in Libya, to save the largely untrained Libyan resistance group from a massacre.

This marked a defining moment in the conflict as NATO air power was deployed to support the ground troops. Six months of air strikes on Libyan cities, especially Tripoli, its capital, was beamed across the world, to show how a man could stupidly destroy all that he had accomplished for his country.

The era of Gaddafi  may have come to an end  but  his country and indeed the world would remember him in so many ways. First, Gaddafi positioned himself as a  nationalist and supported the cause of Arab people. He extended this to the African continent where the oppressive regimes in  southern Africa  felt the impact of  Gaddafism with his massive funding of liberation movements.

He funded non- state actors like the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the African National Congress (ANC) among others. He was regarded as a terrorist by the Western nations.

The involvement of Libyan secret service agents in the downing of Pan Am  Flight 103, an American flight, over  Lokerebie in 1988,  was a major source of tension with Western nations which imposed sanctions on Libya for causing the death of 270 people. Before then, Libya had attained the status of a ‘terrorist state’ as it was implicated in the death of a British police woman Yvonne Fletcher, who was shot dead in front of Libyan embassy in April 1984.

In 2001, a  Scottish court convicted one of the two Libyan secret service agents, Abdel Al.Megrahi  implicated in the Pan Am Flight bombing and sentenced him to life imprisonment in 2003.  Libya accepted responsibility and agreed to pay up to $10 million to relatives of each of the 270 victims of  the  attack. Gaddafi flirted with his own idea of  socialism which was  detailed in his Green  Book. He changed the name of Libya to Jamahiriya Republic of Libya, meaning a state govern by the masses.

The exit of dictators with long tenure in power is known to be preceded by political instability. Although the NTC has announced that it will hold an election in eight months, Dr. Francis Oshodi, an international politics expert,  is of the view that the international community must tread with  caution in exporting democracy to Libya.

Oshodi said the country has not seen democracy for over 60 years,  saying  it takes time to nurture political attitudes and now that we have so many people with weapons, any mistake in  the handling  of this phase of life in Libya would be catastrophic.

Another expert, Mrs Chinaka Uche  says  the death of Gaddafi must be a lesson  for other dictators who want to resist the will of their people.

Africa without Gaddafi
Africa is a continent with contradictory political aspiration and suffused with leaders like Gaddafi who was the chairman of African Union from 2009 to 2010. African leaders had conflicting attitudes to Gaddafi’s brand of politics. He fought hard to impress himself on African politics through massive investments in African Development Bank where Libya is a major shareholder.

Gaddafi has huge investments in many African countries, especially in Kenya’s hospitality industry. The huge investments of Libya in the African countries will be a potential source of conflict between the leaders of the National Transitional Council, NTC, Gaddafi’s children and the African countries.

Gaddafi sponsored internal strifes in Chad, Liberia, Uganda and many other African countries.  Throughout his tenure, he treated Nigeria with contempt.

During his visits to Nigeria, Gaddafi came with female security teams and often tried to undermine Nigeria’s security. In 1982, he called Nigeria a big for nothing country. In 2001, Gaddafi berated Muslims in Nigeria for allowing a Christian to become the president. In 2010, the slain Libyan leader advocated the division of Nigeria along religious lines. But Nigeria has maintained a more conciliatory attitude towards Libya and Gaddafi.

His pretensions to pan Africanism suffered by reports of detention, torture and deportation of Africans from Libya.