Bob Wekesa is a Kenyan journalist studying international communication at the Communication University of China.
African leaders have been conspicuously silent on the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan strongman. Scenes of jubilation in Libya have not been replicated in other African countries. So why aren’t African leaders and citizens celebrating the demise of a leader who has been described as despotic, autocratic, and a funder of terrorism, particularly by Western leaders?
Throughout the eight-month battle to topple Gaddafi, African leaders guided by the African Union (AU), to which Gaddafi had made substantial financial contributions, were utterly opposed to the NATO’s air strike on Libya. Indeed, early in the battle between Gaddafi loyalists and the National Transitional Council (NTC), the Ethiopia-based AU not only issued statements opposing NATO’s aerial bombardment of Libyan cities and towns but also sent South African President Jacob Zuma on a diplomatic mission to negotiate a round table solution to the conflict. Emboldened by the military support of NATO, the NTC turned down the AU effort and that mission collapsed.
With the death of Gaddafi and the re-organization of Libya under the NTC, AU and African leaders who sympathized with their fellow leader are equally losers in the conflict while NATO and particularly the US and France are seen as the winners. The fact is that African leaders’ attempts to keep Gaddafi in power failed.
The line taken by the AU to date is that NATO interfered by actively engaging in the internal dispute of a sovereign African state. That NATO brushed this aside and went on to deal blows on Gaddafi’s land and air defenses is seen by AU as disregarding a continental body with the mandate of resolving conflicts within countries. The relations between NATO and the AU have clearly been strained and will perhaps need mending.
Indeed, when the Gaddafi regime was on its last legs, a number of African countries are said to have invited him to take up exile in their countries reportedly including Uganda, Zimbabwe and Angola.
In a commentary in East African newspapers in February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni criticized NATO while praising Gaddafi’s revolutionary credentials.
It is understandable why most African leaders will not celebrate Gaddafi’s death. While Gaddafi’s 42 years in power is a record breaker, a good number of African leaders are deemed to have equally overstayed their welcome.
With one of the reasons fronted for Gaddafi’s ouster being the lack of democratic elections, African leaders who have been in power for over 10 years are bound to be wary of their own vulnerability to this yardstick.
African leaders will be fearful over the now real possibility of being dislodged from power by force should circumstances similar to the Arab Spring emerge in their countries. It will be recalled that NATO intervened in Libya after Gaddafi sought to suppress demonstrations similar to those that happened in Tunisia and Egypt. A good number of African leaders have often used the police and military to suppress similar demonstrations.
Many African heads of state and politicians owed a debt of gratitude to Gaddafi. In his four-decade rule, Gaddafi vigorously supported revolutions in African countries, notably in South Africa and Zimbabwe. In these two countries, Gaddafi support is said to have been decisive in the demolition of white rule by not only providing financial resources, but also providing military hardware and training bases. Leaders such as Zuma and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe saw it as their duty to defend and support their benefactor.
When he seized power from King Idris in 1969, Gaddafi had big pan-Arabic ambitions. However, he was treated with suspicion by fellow Arab leaders particularly because of his “revolutionary” streak.
From the 1980s onward, he diverted his attention away from the Arab world to sub-Saharan Africa. Pursuing this dream with passion and using Libya’s immense petrodollars, he bankrolled the activities of the AU, established companies across the continent and brought together various monarchies and traditional leaders.
In many ways, Gaddafi was a major force in Africa’s geopolitical set up. In his death, the AU is likely to witness lean times on the funding end, unless the continental body finds other sources quickly.
Clearly, there will be many fronts on which the AU and Africa in general will be going through a period of soul searching in the post-Gaddafi era.
Source: Global Times