21 October 2011

Nigeria: Muammar Gaddafi, 1942-2011 - a Strong Man's Sad End


The curtain fell yesterday for Moammar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for almost 42 years until the onset of the "Arab Spring" early this year. He died on his own terms. At the beginning of the revolution that overthrew his government, he had vowed to "fight on to the last drop of my blood" and "die a martyr".

Former rebel forces, now called revolutionary forces, backed by NATO, overpowered resistance forces loyal to the former warlord in a convoy in his hometown of Sirte. The prime minister under Libya's National Transition Council (NTC), Mahmoud Jibril, has confirmed Gadhafi's death at a press conference: "We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Moammar Gadhafi has been killed."

Indeed, it is the end of an era in Libya. But the jury is still out on the strong man of Libya's place in history and whether he died a martyr or a villain. And the jury may remain out for perhaps half a century. Western propaganda may rule the airwaves - and indeed all media - for the next decade or longer, but the truth is sure to come out one day. For now, according to western leaders and their allies, " a new peaceful start" has been cleared for Libya; "a new page" to establish democracy has been opened for Libya; it is "a historic transition for Libya"; and it is "the end of 42 years of tyranny".

No lie, however, could be bigger than the description of all of the Gaddafi years as years of tyranny. Western TV stations may keep showing only pictures of Libyans rejoicing at Gaddafi's death, neglecting pictures of those saddened by his demise, but the fact remains that many Libyans will miss their former leader. According to more balanced reports, the new leaders of Libya found, after Gaddafi's ouster, that their country had external reserves in excess of $168 billion. [Compare this with Nigeria's $32 billion.] Libya remains the only African country that is not indebted to the

International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Under Gaddafi, Libyans enjoyed free education at all levels, free health care and subsidised food. Allowances were paid to vulnerable Libyans - the elderly, the underemployed and the unemployed. Compared to many other African countries, Libya under Gaddafi was heaven on earth.

Those who hated Gaddafi did so probably because of his frankness and his refusal to bow to the dictates of foreigners. Others could have hated him because of his resistance to western imperialism and his pan-African vision. Before, during and after his tenure as chairman of the African Union (AU), Gaddafi advocated for the creation of a "united states of Africa". Many authorities have attributed the oil boom of the early 1970s to Gaddafi's exploits in international politics and economics.

In observance of African tradition, we have no reason to rejoice over Gaddafi's killing. However, it is regrettable that he failed to read the handwriting on the wall when the Arab uprising started. Whether his own people were used to topple him or Libyans decided on their own that he should step down, it was clear that Gaddafi had overstayed his welcome.

He should have quit the stage, as Shakespeare wrote, when the ovation was loudest. Attacking and killing protesters with machine guns and calling them rats and cockroaches did not depict him as an exact statesman. Allowing the revolution to claim the lives of his children, other relatives and friends - and now his own life - does not show he was wise enough.

After Gaddafi, it is now the responsibility of Libya's new leaders to point their country towards a better direction. Threats to the country's peace and stability have not been overcome. In the end, it is Libyans that will fix their country, not the international community. It is now time for the NTC to prove that the Gaddafi the west loved to vilify was indeed a psychopath, a tyrant or both.

All in all, Gaddafi's fall should serve as a lesson to all sit-tight leaders, especially in Africa. No government, no matter how benevolent, can remain popular after three decades in power. For, ultimately, power lies in the hands of the people.

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