THE COLLAPSE OF GHADDAFI'S EMPIRE
It is over for Libyan strongman, the self-styled Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya, Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi, but he and his sons are still hallucinating about their continued relevance. As at Wednesday evening, Ghaddafi’s son, Saif al Islam (Ph.D, LSE, Beyonce’s besotted fan) was still boasting that everything in Libya is “normal”. A few days earlier, he had threatened that “we will fight to the last man, the last woman, the last bullet”, and if the people do not cooperate with the regime, “rivers of blood will run through Libya.” His father in a comical outrage similar to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak’s failed last minute tirade, referred to protesters as “rats and mercenaries.” He later used the word “cockroaches” with a threat that whoever raises arms against Libya will be “executed.” Watching him on television, I immediately remembered the famous poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias. Ghaddafi decanted: “I am not going to leave this land. I will die here as a martyr…I shall remain here defiant. Muammar Ghaddafi is the leader of the revolution. I am not a president to step down…This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post. Muammar is the leader of the revolution until the end of time.”
Dictators have the same mind-set perhaps from years of leading the same kind of life. Like Mubarak at the eleventh hour, Ghaddafi is also evoking sentiments of loyalty to the nation. But the situation in Libya is far from normal. It is the people, not the Ghaddafi supporters that are likely “to fight to the last man, the last woman, and the last bullet.” And for more than a week, they have shown great resolve, as they revolt against 42 years of Ghaddafi’s personal and family rule. “Muammar is the leader of the revolution until the end of time.” Yes, that “end of time” is Libya today. Ghaddafi’s “end of time” has come.
The revolt of the Libyan people is the end of the Ghaddafi revolution and the beginning of another, the people’s revolution. “This is my country,” Ghaddafi raved, shaking his fist and pointing his finger, clad in what looked like a bedsheet. What the people are saying, after thousands of them have been killed by Ghaddafi’s mercenaries, and their cities have been bombed, their homes raided, their relations butchered, and Ghaddafi is still threatening that “we have not used force yet…” is that Libya is their country too, and that real sovereignty resides in the people. In 1969, Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi led a revolution against the British-backed King Idris 1, and established a new government in which he refused to take a formal title, the reason he insists that he has no position to resign from, but the people are not even concerned about that; they just want him to “get out” and leave Libya alone.
Their revolt is a referendum on the Ghaddafi government: 42 years of personalisation of power that has seen the people suffering, while Ghaddafi and his children prospered; 42 years in which the Green Book of the Revolution had long been abandoned by the Guide of the Revolution. The pressure of the revolt has brought out the beast in Ghaddafi: he wants to destroy his country’s oil installations, as part of a planned end-game. Libya has Africa’s largest reserves and supplies of oil - 2.3% of world supply, the entire Middle East and the Maghreb – 35. 9%, the crisis in the latter has already driven up prices of crude oil; should Saudi Arabia also witness a proposed Day of Rage on March 11, the implications for the global economy could be worse than the effect of the Iran Revolution of 1979 and the economic recession of 2008. This could translate into a windfall for countries like Nigeria, but it will simultaneously drive up international prices and hurt import-dependent economies like ours further. Thus, Nigeria wins and loses at the same time but how does Nigeria manage the accruing excess revenue? The sub-text of the Libyan crisis is therefore, ultimately oil. Ghaddafi doesn’t care if the world hurts.
For him, Libya is only a means to an end, his own selfish ambitions; and it is the more reason why he has to go. For years, he had kept the people of Libya on a leash by turning fear into an instrument of governance. The bombings of cities, the turning of state-owned weapons on defenceless citizens, with a stated threat to purge Libya “house by house” and “inch by inch” is clear reaffirmation that Ghaddafi is indeed Ronald Reagan’s “mad dog.” All the international groups, from the UN to the Arab League and the African Union have condemned him; the United States is considering according to the US President Barack Obama, “a full range of options” (including economic sanctions and the freezing of assets), but no one should rely on the international community doing more than the barely necessary.
Ghaddafi is not beholden to the West. He is not under pressure to play by their rules or listen to them. The West needs Libya’s oil. Ghaddafi’s threat to blow up the oil installations is a drowning man’s act of desperation, but it is a very weighty piece of blackmail. It is the people of Libya that can win this war and get rid of their own monster. They should be encouraged to continue to stand firm. Two African leaders, Tunisia’s Zinedine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak have already fallen in less than two months, just with the people standing up against the administration. Ghaddafi should be forced out: how many people can he kill, particularly a people who seem to have conquered their fears? By waging war against his own people, Ghaddafi has declared the failure of the Revolution that he led. And every day, the people are deserting him, diplomats, soldiers, tribal leaders, and civil servants have removed their badges and uniforms and joined the people. The Emperor is beginning to lose his clothes. But it is not enough for Libyan army commanders to pull their uniforms and join the people. The future of Libya may well lie in the hands of the ethnically divided, and structurally fragmented Libyan military, to save the country and to create the enabling environment for the introduction of democracy and good governance, and a quick end to Ghaddafi’s histrionic, personal rule.
The implosion of the Maghreb confronts us with an interesting irony. The prevailing tendency in the discourse on governance in Africa is to present sub-Saharan Africa as the dark side of the continent, the development basket case and the Maghreb as a different kind of Africa, included in Africa only for geographical reasons. The attempt to differentiate between the Maghreb and the rest of Africa can be further seen in the reference to mercenaries purportedly from Chad and Niger as “African mercenaries.” Sub-saharan Africa was regarded as the land of refugees, civil wars, hunger and poverty, poor leadership, civil wars, misgovernance and anomie. With recent events in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, however, that myth has been exploded. Life expectancy in Libya is over 70. Women in the country are relatively free. Per capita income is about $12, 000, the populace is largely literate and there are almost no homeless people. Yet, the spectre of alienation looms large, the people feel excluded from the country’s oil wealth, they feel oppressed by an authoritarian regime, significantly, they seek change.
The challenge of good governance in Africa is continent-wide. What happened to the Africa Peer Review Mechanism? Ghaddafi was one of the champions of the African Union and the chief proponent of the idea of African High Command, and a “United Nations of Africa.” But what is the quality of Ghaddafi’s ideology other than grand, vain gestures? In 2010, the same man who wanted a united Africa had recommended the break up of Nigeria between what he wrongly described as the Moslem North and the Christian South. He says he loves Libya, but he is at the moment playing up ethnic sentiments in his country. It is such inconsistency in his ideological expressions that has in part turned Libya into a waiting poster case for a civil war.
What should Nigeria do? Since the Libyan crisis began, countries of the West and others have been evacuating their citizens from the troubled country. Nigeria has an estimated 10, 000 (more than half are illegal immigrants) of its people in Libya. The situation in Egypt is different from Libya’s, however. Ghaddafi is prepared to shed blood to “the last man” if need be. Nigeria has a duty to protect its nationals from being caught in the cross fire, more so as there have been reports of Nigerians being killed in the onslaught against protesters by Ghaddafi’s forces in Benghazi. However, many of the Nigerians in Libya may be reluctant to return. They and other Africans in Libya are in transit to Europe, the confusion in Libya may well provide an opportunity for them to cross the Mediterranean much more easily. Indeed, Ghaddafi had threatened to open up Libya’s borders to Europe, according to him “Europe will become black.” The Libyan crisis thus could create an immigration crisis in the Southern European countries bordering the Mediterranean. Their problem. But Nigerians who wish to return should be assisted to do so as has been promised by the Nigerian authorities. The Nigerian government has also put out a statement to defend the rights of Nigerians in Libya, but it is too warmly worded, Ghaddafi should be told bluntly that no Nigerian life should be targeted as his agents embark on a genocidal end-game.
Ghaddafi, Africa’s longest reigning dictator, demonstrated a capacity to survive in the face of all odds in the past, he is not the regular dictator, rather, a dictator who sees himself as a revolutionary and a philosopher-king. He is tempted to stand up to the people (he thinks they are on alcohol and drugs); but the more he digs in, the more the Libyan situation is likely to worsen, for he makes violent change inevitable. He should remember, nonetheless, the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Shelley’s Ozymandias. Libya provides yet another interesting test case for the people’s revolution, but there is only one certain outcome: Ghaddafi’s demystification and exit, and a likely post-Ghaddafi “vacuum” that could even be more problematic as the entry point to the change that the people seek.