Exit Gaddafy, Exit Controversy!
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
The reign of Gaddafi in Libya is practically over. Yesterday, opposition forces stormed his compound but could not find him. Tripoli has finally fallen. Though Gaddafi is yet to be seen, it is unlikely that he will make a come back. Like others before him, the end of his regime has come. And times have been so generous to him. For 42 years he reigned over the land of Libya, its resources and the minds of its people.
Opinion is divided on his exit, just as it is divided on his personality. Is it a loss or a relief? Is Gaddafi a hero or a villain?
To Afro-centric scholars, to proprietors of African unity, to blind opponents of the West among Muslims, Arabs and socialists, the exit of Gaddafi is a great loss for many strong reasons.
The Russians, Chinese and socialist regimes in Latin America like Yugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and socialists around the world the fall of Gaddafi is a great loss to the left. The capitalist West has again conspired to overthrow another champion of the people and social justice. To compound their sorrow, Gaddafi has not allowed the emergence of another socialist leader after him. Throughout his tenure, he remained the invincible leader that directed the affairs of his country. The forces that overthrew him are therefore unlikely to completely maintain his socialist principles. Like Egypt after Nasser, Libya in the long run is most likely going to belong to the West, almost forever, with its loyalty and transactions probably dictated by the quartet of America, Britain, France and Italy.
To Afrocentric scholars and Pan-Africanists, Africa has lost a brother, a big brother, someone who stood by its freedom fighters for the past four decades. His stamp is there on the historical narration of African independence struggles: Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, to count the ones I personally witnessed. He has stood by many African leaders who recognized his leadership regardless of their character from Idi Amin to Charles Taylor. He has donated generously to many continental endeavours, like the African communications satellite that he almost single-handedly financed to block the exploitation of African countries by Europe. Finally, he represented the last advocate of African unity with his dream of United States of Africa project which other African leaders found too impractical to invest in.
To many Africans who live under corrupt regimes, Gaddafi would be just the leader they are looking for in their present state of poverty and regime corruption. His country has the highest per capita income in Africa, meaning, on the average, his citizens are the richest on the continent. He accorded Libyans housing, food and decent material living far better than the dream of many Africans. He did not keep a foreign account where he will stash any ill-gotten wealth. (Of course, as an absolute dictator, he did not need one) His government, he said, is for the Libyan people: a Jamahiriyya. Such Africans would wonder why Libyans would overthrow such a benevolent leader, until they read the End of History and learn about thymos.
Gaddafi has sympathizers also among Arab nationalists. After the death of his mentor, the Egyptian socialist dictator, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Gaddafi would carry the baton of Arab Nationalism and unity for at least the next three decades. As Nasser tried to unsuccessfully forge unity between Egypt and some Arab states like Syria and Iraq in the 1950s and 1960s, Gaddafi also tried to unite Libya with Sadat’s Egypt, Numeiri’s Sudan, Bouguiba’s Algeria and Hasan’s Morroco. Each effort was met with failure. He renounced the treaty with Israel and even expelled over 30,000 Palestinians when the PLO, an organization he generously financed, harboured and trained, signed the Oslow Accord. You can say, with little fear of contradiction, that he was the last truly Arab nationalist leader.
To many Muslims, his ouster by a combined power of NATO and rebel forces is enough to earn him their sympathy either as a result of religious affinity or the rational calculation that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. He is a victim of Western conspiracy, they would say, a claim they share with his socialist supporters.
Now, who would be celebrating the fall of Gaddafi and for what reasons?
The jubilations in Libya clearly indicate the large number of its citizens is not missing Gaddafi. His supporters did not come out in large numbers to defend him as he predicted and he had to hire mercenaries from Europe and Sub-Saharan African to do the dirty job of suppressing the opposition in his usually brutal way. Even the army he has built has melted away. The air of freedom, such opponents of his regime expect, will soon start to breeze over Libya as soon as the new government stabilizes.
There are groups within Libya that are welcoming the exit of Gaddafi. The Berbers and Islamist movements are surely the two that will not miss him. They bore the brunt of his tyranny more than any other. The Berbers can now continue their struggle for the restoration of their language just as the Islamists who are conspicuous in the rebellion will seek the liberty to pursue their cause. They would only pray that secularist forces do not shortchange them as it happened in the Algerian revolution.
This is not to mention the Libyan Diaspora that consists of a variety of its academics, intelligentsia, civil rights activists and political opponents of Gaddafi. The days they were targets of assassination by Gaddafi’s revolutionary committee across the world are certainly over. Those who are still alive can stay peacefully overseas or return home to partake in the building of new Libya.
The Muslim credentials of Gaddafi are suspect to many Islamist. He brutally suppressed them, as Nasser did to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He gave unqualified support to the war against terror. He supported the Serbs in the Bosnian conflict against Bosnian Muslims. He is also accused of assassinating the Iraqi opposition scholar, Musa Baqir Sadar, who disappeared after leaving Lebanon en route Libya over two decades ago. Clearly, Gaddafi is not a favourite of Muslim regimes and organizations, except those that patronize him for material purposes.
Gaddafi is also not a hero to many Africans. Thousands of families in Chad, Uganda, Liberia and Sudan will celebrate his downfall. The war he waged in these countries or the support he gave to their despots did cause substantial loss of lives. The opponents of dictators like Idi Amin, Mangestu, Charles Taylor or of genocidal groups like the the Janjawid would hardly forgive him. Then there are also African immigrants – from Mali, Niger, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, etc – who were often deported unceremoniously without any right to their possessions. Many African leaders may also feel relieved of the burden of handling Gaddafi’s vituperations or unrestrained statements regarding their internal affairs, like how he often proposes the separation of Nigeria into Muslim North and Christian South.
Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia have already expressed their happiness over his overthrow. Their official papers carry titles like “Gaddafi: The Exit of a Tyrant”. He has been a pebble in their shoes. He is to them a live specimen of the socialist contagion that overthrew their counterparts in Iraq and Egypt. He was also the member of the anti-West group in OPEC, along with Venezuela and Iran.
Finally and surely, the West will feel relieved of a person whom it has charged of financing many terrorist groups and activities; who is behind the bombings of civilians in Berlin and Lockerbie; who has limited its access to Libyan oil; and who is a long standing enemy whose friendship it cautiously embraced recently.
Gaddafi has therefore been a controversial figure and so is his exit. Whatever is your opinion about him, the reality is that his regime is gone. He might try to regroup his loyalists and constitute a security challenge to the new government, as did Saddam before his capture. Or he may be caught and handed over, as would be the fate of his son – Saif al-Islam, to The Hague to face war crime charges.
Amidst the sorrow of his loss and the jubilations of his exit in different camps, the future of Libya remains unclear until it is certain. My pessimism arises from the experience of many countries after the departure of their dictators. Somalia after Barre is a classical case. Others are Yugoslavia after Milosovic and Zaire after Mobuto. The key to averting such catastrophes is how the new government would handle the interest of the diverse groups in the country. If it lives to its dream of building a free, independent, transparent, prosperous and all-inclusive Libya, very few Libyans will care to remember the benevolent Gaddafi. The alternative is bloodshed, like Iraq and Afghanistan, which we hope will be avoided at all cost.
The West has certainly helped to avert bloodshed in Benghazi and tremendously assisted the rebels in overthrowing Gaddafi. As I have always maintained, it does not need to apologize for aiding the overthrow of leaders who are brutal to their people. However, I am still skeptical if it will be fully compensated by the Libyans immediately. Beyond access to oil – that too at reasonable price – a puppet regime is very unlikely. Though they may have been tired with the Gaddafi’s Libyans may not be in haste to abandon his egalitarian principles.
Exit the republican, Arab, Socialist, Islamist, African Gaddafi. Exit controversy.
24 August 2011