By Patrick Dele Cole
PRESIDENT Gaddafi of Libya may have been a megalomaniac, but he was an African megalomaniac and also an Islamic megalomaniac, in a world where his activities could be seen by the West as harmful to its interests in the war between the West and Soviet Russia.
In the late 60s, 70s, and 80s, Gaddafi and to some extent Sekou Toure and Kwame Nkrumah, following different paths, arrived at the conclusion that they could benefit their countries by playing the West against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, who had a virile policy of exporting communism everywhere to the world: Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Latin America, The Caribbean, etc. Their preferred route was through the Trade Unions and Student Unions of these countries, nearly all of whose leaders studied in Russia.
There was a vibrant Trade Union Congress in Nigeria heavily infiltrated by the Soviet Union; they recruited students who went to Accra as a first step to going to study in Russia. Sekou Toure did the same in Guinea; their leaders drove their countries into the Non-Aligned Movement which the West saw as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, organization.
These mushroom organisations of nascent left-wing organisation had to be stopped in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. What would happen to them if their leaders were removed? Thus, Sekou Toure (Guinea), Nkrumah (Ghana), Gamal Nasser (Egypt) and several leaders in South East Asia were replaced by leaders who were anti-Union of USSR.
War erupted in most of South East Asia and in Africa, military coups removed Nkrumah and a weak Tafawa Balewa whom the West felt did not fully understand the dangers of the communist seeds planted in the TUC and the student movements.
In the Maghreb, similar activities took place. Nasser was deposed and so was King Idris of Libya who was replaced by Gaddafi; the latter was even more egocentric than Nasser and set out to build a philosophy that was unique to Libya Jamahiriya but basically a Socialist Welfarist state where education, health, housing etc. were free.
The USSR did not mind this development. Gaddafi went about setting up himself as the liberator of feudalist Islamic countries like Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, etc. Add Israel into the mixed, confused cauldron; a country, which the Islamists regarded as an attempt by the West to throw a monkey wrench in “Socialist” Arab renaissance.
This was so, despite the fact that the original founders of Israel could not really be described as full capitalists, having drawn much of the strength through the establishment of Kibbutz – a welfarist organisation depending on self-help, etc.
In Congo, the pro-communist leader, Patrice Lumumba poised to take over suddenly died. In Ethiopia, the army overthrew a pro-western leader in Emperor Haile Selassie. In Egypt, Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal.
Iran meanwhile, nationalised the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which produced 20% of the oil used by the British Navy. Arab resentment of Israel culminated in the 1967 war, which was disastrous to militant Arabism despite all the hype about its invincibility after the creation of the United Arab Republic. It was only a matter of time before all anti-Western leaders would be removed.
The narrative above has its vocal opponents. I merely point out that this narrative is an alternative to the extant ones that have reached other conclusions based on similar facts.
Gaddafi, however, survived all of this. His country is rich, his personality unpredictable but could, as the earlier part of his rule was not regarded as overtly anti-West. In nearly all the countries which had colonial rule, there were nascent opposition groups who found their way to Tripoli, with its extensive intelligence and network, for support in their fight. It will be difficult to characterise the nature of Libyan support for militant opposition in Congo, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Madagascar,
Tanzania Ireland, etc.
The West believes that he supported or may have ordered the perpetrators of the bombing of the Panam flight which crashed in Lockerbie. Gaddafi spent billions denying this charge (and making massive atonement) despite the imprisonment of one of his intelligence officers for the crime.
The Maverick in him turned him into an avid supporter, first of the IRA, then of the British. The French left and right wing received his support (Francois Mitterrand and Igor Sikorsky). He established a professional chair at London School of Economics, LSE.
He was even so supportive that he was able to proclaim that he wanted to join the nuclear world and was well on his way there. The West needed Libyan oil, but more importantly, a Western controlled Mediterranean, having seen what could easily happen to the area in the long fight between Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, etc.
Gaddafi controlled insurgents in West Africa through using his acolyte, Thomas Sankara, in Burkina Faso. He established a formidable outpost there for paying money for wars and coups in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Niger, etc. Most of the arms of ANC in South Africa and Zimbabwe came from Gaddafi and China.
Nigeria was concerned in all these machinations and learnt early that its intelligence forces must contain the spread of Gaddafi to Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc. It had a well sized intelligence outfit in these countries while operating a charm offensive to Gaddafi to dissuade him from his unpredictable ways and his obvious desire to be the African leader as well as the Arab leader.
He remained a strong North African leader, gave the West unlimited access to oil in Libya and considerable assurance of peace. More important, he was a buffer between restive youths from Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso, etc. who wanted to go to Europe.
If Gaddafi was unpredictable to Africa, by 1980s and 1990s, he was a terror to the West. But on the surface, he was at peace with them even though every dissident group in Europe and United States,US, received money from Tripoli.
The West had sold him a formidable array of weapons but failed to train his troops properly in their deployment. He had paid for the nuclear blueprint and was in fact, beginning to build it. Iran and Iraq were also on the same nuclear road. South Africa and Israel were already there.
So long as South Africa remained White, there was no fear even if it had nuclear capability. But with the collapse of apartheid, the South Africa nuclear capability had to be removed. The West negotiated to stop the Libyan experiment which it did but they were not sure what Gaddafi would do. He had to go.
The old, small resistance groups in Libya were now fully rearmed and helped to take over Benghazi in Eastern Libya. The West financed them through oil purchase in Benghazi and a navel protection of the passage to Benghazi for the tankers and a bulwark against the Libyan Navy trying to get to Benghazi.
Emboldened, the rebels began to plan a March on Tripoli. The West supported this, enforced an aerial embargo and isolation of Gaddafi and jammed Libyan communication system and his air force and communications network was useless. Finally, the US, United Kingdom, UK, and France bombed Tripoli and all Gaddafi troops and killed him, leaving a huge vacuum in Libya and also the immigrant’s route to Europe.
The country deteriorated to Warlordism, thus encouraging other equally displaced persons in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen to seek to enter Europe through Libya. Economic migrants from West Africa joined this train. This is the story of how Victor of Benin, our CNN hero could even think of going to Europe via Libya.