Africa: Libyan Leader Wows Students In Lusaka

10 July 2001

Lusaka, Zambia — A crazy convoy raced through the streets of Lusaka on Tuesday, hunting for The Guide of the Revolution, the name that has become synonymous with the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Al-Gaddafi. But The Guide was nowhere to be found, not at the Libyan Embassy in the Zambian capital, nor at a presidential guest house in the city.

The colonel's snow-haired and feisty protocol chief, 'Mister Nuri', could be heard shouting directions and instructions and seen waving his hands and arms vigorously in the air.

Helping 'Mister Nuri' direct traffic and the convoy, and block roads in Lusaka, was a striking, long-legged and long-haired, Tripoli-based Congolese public relations supremo. She told reporters she was helping Al-Gaddafi with his 'renew Africa' mission.

The fact that the convoy - made up of smart black Mercedes Benzes and other more road-weary vehicles - failed to find The Guide did little to dampen the excitement and sense of expectation of the dozens of pro-Libya students who were in the impromptu motorcade.

They assembled at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka, where the 37th summit of the OAU is being held and waited patiently on one of the lawns. And the students said they were prepared to wait in the sun "until the evening, or even for nineteen hours" to meet the man who has suddenly become their idol.

Some of the students were among those who gave Al-Gaddafi a rapturous welcome when he flew into Zambia on Saturday, accompanied by seven other aircraft. The colonel's sleek green stretch limousine has become a feature of the summit as it glides in and out of the conference centre, with jittery bodyguards trotting by its side, then blocking all from getting access to The Guide.

When he finally met the students, they weren't disappointed. "Viva Muammar Gaddafi, Viva", they enthusiastically chanted in unison. Under a large, carpeted marquee, pitched in the grounds of a presidential guesthouse, they put questions to The Guide and waited eagerly for his response.

Sitting on a green chair, and clad in his signature brown wrap and a fetching felt hat, Al-Gaddafi charmed the students and gave them 20 solid minutes of his speech and his vision, alternately smiling graciously, looking grave and steely, and indulgent. Speaking in Arabic, which was directly translated into English, Al-Gaddafi was an instant success with the young people.

The Guide did an excellent job in marshalling the attention and goodwill of the students who had been bussed in for their meeting with Al-Gaddafi. He told them they were Africa's future and the hope of the continent.

They cheered as he repeatedly denounced the United States and Europe who he held responsible for Africa's current wars and woes. Al-Gaddafi dismissed Western countries as slavers who had no respect for Africa and held Africans in contempt: "You own Africa. Africa belongs to you," the 59 year old university drop-out told the students, to more shouts of "Viva Muammar Gaddafi".

Later Lisa Sianyabo, a journalism student, said, "I learnt a lot about how Americans are disturbing the Africans". Clearly she had taken on board Al-Gaddafi's pet themes in less than an hour of being in the presence of the Libyan leader. Others called him a good leader, though one young man said Al-Gaddafi was a "hard man" and "a dictator".

The Colonel, who observers note has a flair for political drama, has used it to great effect in Lusaka. He seems to thrive on acknowledgement and acceptance of his unique and quirky style and reports of lavish spending. He wins praise too for his plans for Africa, where he has forged new and close relationships in recent years. He has been dubbed the 'architect' of the African Union, the body that is set to replace the Organisation of African Union.

Al-Gaddafi's presence has dominated the OAU summit and he has been hailed, in the speeches of several other African leaders, as a 'brother president' and African visionary, he was not quite as complimentary towards his fellow heads of states when he addressed the students on Tuesday.

He urged the youth to "push the hesitant rulers, presssure them!" calling on each young Zambian to recruit 10 friends to the cause of African unity and spread the word, like a stone thrown in the pond that creates ripples, then waves and then change.

Al-Gaddafi warned that there were enemies of the continent that wanted "Africa to stand still". He accused African leaders of failing their people over the past thirty years and exhorted the students to ensure a "People's Africa" and the rule of the "masses" and not the "official Africa" which he said the OAU had represented since it was created in 1963.

"Anyone who wants that, wants Africa to stand still, to stay in its place," said the Libyan leader who has himself been in power for 32 years.

Later, the students were given lunch at a hotel, courtesy of The Guide.

Western governments may think of Al-Gaddafi as an eccentric, and potentially dangerous maverick, and his rhetoric to the students on Tuesday may have rung alarm bells, but Africans seem to be warming to the Colonel.

His status on the continent and among fellow leaders is rising and this week's OAU summit, despite Al-Gaddafi upstaging some of the presidents and allowing his security agents to take over at the summit venue, is an effective platform from which to canvas his views. And The Guide certainly 'wowed' the students.

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