In view of the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, African countries of Arabic cultural orientation, the international community is abuzz with the question: ‘Why have African leaders been so mum on the behavior of Muammar Kaddafi, who is slaughtering his people callously and in defiance of world opinion?’
This taciturnity was underlined in a statement that appeared in the Zimbabwe Telegraph (March 1, 2011) written by Moses Chamboko. He opined, “Unashamedly, African leaders have literally gone on leave while their beloved but lunatic brother in the North is busy butchering innocent and unarmed civilians mercilessly. Like the proverbial ostrich, from Cape to Cairo, leaders buried their heads in the sand, hoping a miracle would deliver them and their dear brother from the monumental disgrace.”
Indeed, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) met on Feb. 23, 2011. The chair of the AU Commission, Jean Ping, made a pallid statement at that time to the effect that, “The disproportionate use of force against civilians was uncalled for and we call for immediate end of repression and violence.” Even the superpower of Africa, South Africa, has simply hidden behind its endorsement of the U.N. Security Copuncil vote to refer the Kaddafi regime’s case to the International Court. Its international relations spokesperson, Clayson Monyela predictibly stated, “ People should be the authors of their own destiny.”
The six million dollar question is, what is the basis for African acquiescence to Kaddafi’s whims? The following are some attempts at addressing the question.
•Kaddafi has showered African countries with overly generous petrodollars. The speed and intensity of his investments were meant to bolster his image to accommodate his ambitions to be the leader of Africa after being snubbed by the Arabic League. Sad to say, his blood money has supported the likes of Idi Amin, Charles Taylor, Foday Sankoh, Yoweri Museveni and Robert Mugabe. He deliberately aided and abetted genocides in Rwanda, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. He is largely involved in such expensive assets as the Commerce Bank of Zimbabwe and the Laico Regency Hotel in Nairobi. It has been aptly said that the Libyan ruler bought influence in Africa for four decades with investments in everything from chicken farms to rebel movements.
In 2006, Kaddafi set up a $5 billion Africa Investment Portfolio and saw it fit to adopt the title of ‘King of Kings’ two years later. His megalomania is showing again in a grand scheme for a regional Olympics-style athletic competition for the Community of the Sahel-Sahara states, to be hosted in the Chadian capital of N’djamena. Mementos of his financial legacy in the continent exist in the form of the Kaddafi Mosque in Uganda, Kaddafi Square in Mauritius and Five Camels on Robert Mugabe’s farm.
•Many experts actually blame Kaddafi’s son for the flare-up with his mucho statement on television when he declared, on behalf of his father that, “ We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet.”
•For some strange reason, king of kings was allowed to play a significant role in negotiations between Chad and Sudan. This bequeathed him the apparent title of peace maker. He actively supported the African Union and its activities.
Inspite of his amphibious behavior, the Brother Leader has convinced many African leaders that he is a genuine Pan Africanist and one of them. He has been in the forefront of the movement championing the cause of the United States of Africa by year 2025. It was during a public ceremony that he had organized in Benghazi in 2008, where he crowned himself King of Kings of Africa in the presence of over 200 African traditional rulers. As if to endorse that bizarre gesture, in February 2009 in Addis Ababa, at the 53rd AU Summit, Kaddafi was elected head of the AU for a year.
•Another explanation of why this guy is happy in the company of African leaders is found in the two adages that, ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ and ‘Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.’ In view of the fact that there are 53 nations on the continent and only a handful are regarded as democratic, there is no doubt that Kaddafi has plenty of company. Would you expect a protest from Harare unless you want to be one of the 46 Zimbabweans who were rounded up and arrested and charged with treason for watching a video of protestors in the Egyptian revolution?
•In 1969, he overthrew King Idris 1 and established Islamic socialism. He developed an anti-West and Israel stance and espoused the political principle of direct democracy through his green book. Accordingly, power was in the hands of the People’s Congresses and Committees. Traditional structures found in Western democracy, e.g.: cabinet, police forces, etc were abolished. At the height of wars of liberation in Africa, many aspiring African leaders were inspired by his position which tallied with their own notions of scientific socialism, African socialism and one-party states. Positions and feelings against the West were rife due to the colonial legacies of the European powers.
•It has been widely reported that Kaddafi routinely recruits African mercenaries who he uses to suppress his own people. Likewise, when his militia were overrun by protestors last month, he brought in plain loads of hired guns from many African countries including Zimbabwe. Obviously, the recruits welcome the opportunities to be showered with Libyan big bucks and their presidents are relieved that someone has found a well-paying job for them instead of being part of the erstwhile raging 45 percent unemployment rate. It is not inconceivable that, under such circumstances, the leader of a given country will get a hefty ‘Thank You’ bonus for ‘loaning’ his men to the King of Kings. In fact, at present, there are close to 6,000 soldiers of fortune in Libya mostly from Chad, Mauritania, Sudan, Somalia, Liberia and Zimbabwe.
The sheepish emulations of Kaddafi and his ilk in the North by some Sub-Saharan African leaders are as fatal an attraction as the former’s egotism which has landed them where they find themselves today, to their everlasting regret.
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was warned by the seer that harm would befall him before the Ides of March (15th). Caesar quipped, “Well, the Ides of March have come.”
The seer shot back, “Ay, they have come, but they have not gone.”
Shortly thereafter, Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate. Though the warning, ‘Beware the Ides of March,’ refers to an incident in 44 BC, in Europe, it applies to the sit-tight leaders in Africa today. This, despite their misguided notions of themselves and the powers that they wield. Their armor of invincibility is becoming more and more suspect but, they do not seem to know it or care about it.
Recently, Regina Jane Jere, deputy editor of New African, wrote an article in the March 2011 issue on, ‘Africa Reacts.’ She went on a cyber search to take the pulse of these leaders on events in Tunisia and Egypt. Out of the 15 interviews, I was struck by the responses of three. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, in an interview with the German paper, Beeld, bragged, “ I can tell you that there will never be a Tunisia in South Africa.
“We have a constitutional democracy here; every person has the right to say what he wants and vote. It is impossible. I repeat; it is impossible.”
A white despot once declared that Rhodesia would not achieve Black rule in his life time and later, revised that to a thousand years. He was forced to eat his words in 1980 at the birth of Zimbabwe.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda sounded pretty much like Zuma except with a military tinge. He asserted: “There will be no Egyptian-like revolution here. There is nobody who can use extra-constitutional means to take power here. That is out of question. We would just lock them up in the most humane manner possible. Bang them into jails and that would be the end of the story.”
The third respondent chose to remain anonymous. He/she quoted the words of Abraham Lincoln which the other two would rather ignore at their peril, namely, that: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, or all of the people some of the time but, you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Other leaders in Africa are warned. The revolution will continue.”
There is little doubt now the winds of change that dislodged colonialism are ready to deal the same hand to dictatorships across the continent.
The admirers of Muammar Kaddafi are asking themselves the question, ‘Where did we go wrong now that things are falling apart in the land of the King of Kings? Could we be next?’ The answer is blowing in the wind, the wind of change.
The writer of this article, Dr. Japhet M. Zwana is a retired professor and administrator at the State University of New York (SUNY) System. He is former resident director of Syracuse University’s Study Abroad Program in Zimbabwe.