Horace Campbell argues that Libya’s former leader did not operate in the genuine interests of African unity.
By Horace Campbell
This article was first published by Pambazuka in March 2010, following Colonel Gaddafi’s statement that Nigeria should split in two. Gaddafi’s death will have some impact on African Union funding and countries across the continent which hosted his pet projects and received his investments. Some still view him favourably. Others mistakenly view opposition to NATO’s intervention as support for Gaddafi. Although written over 18 months ago, the questions raised and myths challenged in the article below are even more relevant today, with so many asking what Gaddafi’s death mean for the African continent.
Muammar al-Gaddafi has established himself as an enemy of the unification of the peoples of Africa for over 40 years. Last week, Gaddafi exceeded his conservative instincts when he stated before a group of young students that Nigeria should be split in two. Instead of motivating the students to work for the transformation and unification of the peoples of Nigeria as one prerequisite for the unification of Africa, Gaddafi called for the country to be divided on religious grounds. He exposed his ignorance of African religious and spiritual traditions because there was no room for followers of African religious beliefs in his call for the division of this society. This call for the division of Nigeria is one more effort to break up Nigerian society so that this society is weakened and its people subjected to more exploitation and manipulation. For 40 years Gaddafi had supported the butchers and dictators in Africa. Starting with his military support for Idi Amin of Uganda and other murderers such as Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor, this militarist in Libya was an obstacle to African liberation. For a short while after Nelson Mandela rescued him from obscurity, Gaddafi had sought to use his wealth to buy the leadership of the African Union (AU). He was made to understand that the unity of Africa was more profound than the meeting of leaders of states. The statements of Gaddafi on Nigeria must be condemned in the strongest terms and it is time to strip away the fallacy that Gaddafi stood in the ranks of African revolutionary leadership.
Gaddafi is energetically seeking to replace the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah. Although he cannot point to a text as powerful as Nkrumah’s book, ‘Africa Must Unite’, Gaddafi has used his oil wealth to suborn a group of sycophantic African leaders who have heaped praise on his leadership. For the past 10 years, the image of Gaddafi as the leader of the African Union has been promoted by a fawning group of leaders in Africa, and the international media was only too willing to oblige in order to obliterate the traditions of Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, Kwame Nkrumah, Amílcar Cabral, Cheikh Anta Diop, Frantz Fanon, Patrice Lumumba and Samora Machel, who were strong advocates of African unity. Gaddafi himself used the oil resources of Libya to harness the support of servile self-seekers who refused to pay their dues to the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) and AU while salting away billions in foreign banks.
Progressive Pan-Africanists supported the project of the unification of the peoples of Africa in order to transcend the Berlinist state in Africa. By the ‘Berlinist state’, we mean those states that were carved out at the Berlin Conference in 1885. In reality, the progressive Pan-African project seeks to build on the ideas of Cheikh Anta Diop in relation to the psychological, linguistic and cultural unity of Africa. The people have always been for unity because they do not respect the colonial borders. One does not have to ask the Maasai whether they respect the borders between Kenya and Tanzania, or ask the Makonde whether they respect the false division of their communities. Anthony Asiwaju has written on the full impact of partitioned Africa, and the task of Pan-Africanists at home and abroad is to now build on the work of those who will work to end the divisions of the peoples. African women at the grassroots are opposed to the borders and the traders show that no colonial borders can restrain them.
It is the present leaders who are maintaining the borders in order to maintain themselves in power. There are many questions in Africa that urgently require cooperation across the false borders. Environmental degradation, tsetse fly infestation, HIV/AIDS and malaria know no border. Confronting these challenges requires new thinking and new leadership. The project of African unity is one which in the short run will require the replacement of most of the leaders in Africa, and the building of a new leadership from the grassroots.
It is time to draw a line between those so-called leaders and the people of Africa. Gaddafi himself has drawn the line by exposing the fact that he is opposed to the unity of the peoples of Africa. From the time he came to power in 1969, Gaddafi has wittingly and unwittingly served the interest of the enemies of Africa. He has also served as an enemy of the Palestinian people.
When Gaddafi seized power in September 1969, there were divisions among Western political circles about the meaning of his assumption of power. After Gaddafi nationalised foreign oil companies, the US identified him as a dangerous radical, but the European imperial forces saw his assumption of power as a force to support anti-communism. Gaddafi in the early 1970s presented himself as a follower of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. Libya used the oil resources to increase the standard of living of the ordinary Libyan people and Gaddafi declared Libya to be the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. However, very soon the revolutionary rhetoric, when stripped away, revealed a megalomaniac person who interfered in the internal affairs of genuine liberation movements. Gaddafi soon alienated the Egyptian people, as well as the Palestinian people, by seeking to meddle in the internal affairs of the resistance forces in Palestine.
On the African continent, Gaddafi became the friend of the worst dictators. His relationship with Idi Amin, who regime murdered more than 300,000, stands out in this regard. The Libyan Arab Bank financed the ventures of Idi Amin’s henchmen and the Libyan army fought alongside Idi Amin’s army when Amin invaded Tanzania in 1978. This attack on Tanzania was an effort by Amin to divert attention from the struggle against apartheid and colonialism in Rhodesia and South Africa. Tanzania had been the frontline state bearing the brunt of the fight against the white racist apartheid government. In the midst of this war against apartheid, Amin attacked Tanzania. Algeria supported Tanzania and Mozambique who were clear on the reasons for the Ugandan attack. The Libyan and Ugandan army were roundly defeated by the Tanzanian forces. When Libyan soldiers were captured, Gaddafi attempted to buy them back from Tanzania. But Nyerere returned these prisoners of war, and said that there should not be a price on human beings.
Disappearance of Musa al-Sadr
In the same period when Gaddafi was supporting Idi Amin, Sayyid Mūsá al-Ṣadr, a well-known Islamic cleric from Lebanon, disappeared when he was on a visit to Libya in 1978. Musa al-Sadr had acted as a unifier and reconciler within Lebanon. His patient work among the Shia and Sunni communities had ensured that war did not break out between these two communities. Musa al-Sadr was invited to Libya in 1978 and has since disappeared. Since his absence from the Lebanese scene, the society has plunged into conflicts and wars for 30 years. Once divided and weakened, the Israelis and the Falangists took advantage of the absence of Musa al-Sadr to perpetuate war. The Israeli army has also been a direct beneficiary of the disappearance of Musa al-Sadr. Gaddafi has a lot to answer for in the context of the wars in Lebanon. It is with the knowledge of the disappearance of Musa al-Sadr that Africans have to denounce in the strongest terms the call by Gaddafi for the break-up of Nigeria.
Gaddafi’s temporary rehabilitation
During the anti-apartheid struggle, most leaders in Africa had to support liberation, and Gaddafi did give moral, material and military support to freedom fighters in southern Africa. But this support for African freedom fighters did not end the mischief-making and interference of Gaddafi. In the early 1980s, Gaddafi was supporting butchers in Sudan, Chad and other parts of Africa. Despite this mischief, Gaddafi was able to get the support of freedom fighters because the US government under Ronald Reagan bombed Libya in 1986. This imperial bombing garnered more support for Gaddafi and gave him credibility as an ‘anti-imperialist’ leader. Because of the ambiguous nature of his leadership, Libya was caught in the middle of the Lockerbie disaster when the Pan Am 103 plane was blown over Scotland. After the Lockerbie incident, Libya was placed on the list of states sponsoring terrorism.
Mandela’s intervention in 1997
Nelson Mandela had been branded a terrorist by the West, so he worked hard to clear the matter of the Lockerbie bombing. He successfully negotiated with the G7 so that the impasse between the West and Libya was significantly watered down. This intervention by Mandela to bring clarity to the question did not clear the cloud over exactly what happened in Lockerbie. Although two Libyans were later tried in a neutral country where one of them was convicted, their lawyer continued to claim their innocence. This issue remained murky because at the time of the bombing in 1988, the Western media had blamed Syria and Iran, among others, as culprits.
Gaddafi and the African Union
As a result of Mandela’s intervention, Gaddafi, who previously had been parading himself as a leader of the Arab world, now presented himself as a great leader of Africa, and convened an extraordinary summit of the OAU in Sirte in 1999. The fact that between 1999 and 2002 the Constitutive Act of the African Union was written and ratified is now history, and Gaddafi deserves credit for his leadership on this. But at the same time, while he was working for the unity of Africa, Gaddafi was financing butchers such as Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh. Other dictators such as Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe were supported by Gaddafi. In fact, when democratic forces in Uganda and Zimbabwe were involved in a prolonged struggle to end dictatorship, Gaddafi said a revolutionary should never retire.
The contradictory utterances of Gaddafi must be analysed against the real actions of the Libyan state in relation to African peoples. Many Pan-Africanists cheered when Libya successfully pressured the Italians to consider the reparative claims of Libya and to return Libyan cultural artefacts. Libya was also promised US$5 billion by Italy. However, this reparative claim was overshadowed by the realisation that the Libyans had made an agreement with the Italians to act as the police for the Italians to control the movements of African immigrants. These agreements between Libya and Italy reinforced in the minds of the African youth the fact that Libya was a hostile place for Africans who believed in Africa for the Africans. Hostile relations between African immigrants and Libyans resulted in the deaths of hundreds of African immigrants in Libya. As a leader who claimed the mantle of Pan-African leadership, Gaddafi needed to give clearer leadership to his people on the question of xenophobia. Some of our Pan-African brothers and sisters condemned Gaddafi as an Arab, but one must see his actions as similar to the leadership of Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki spoke and wrote on African renaissance but refused to give leadership when xenophobic violence broke out against African immigrants. Gaddafi is like many African leaders who speak publicly about African unity but persecute Africans who seek to work and live in other parts of Africa.
While serving as chairman of the African Union, Gaddafi contravened the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. There was the execution of African migrants in Libya, and putting many on death row in Libya. Indeed, Gaddafi’s tenure as chair of the AU represented a low period for African progressives. His rambling and undisciplined presentation at the United Nations in 2009 was a poor reflection on Africa. But his presence in the USA was a result of a new alliance between the oil barons in the USA and the Libyan government. After the French government mooted the establishment of the Mediterranean Union to counter the United States in Africa, sections of the US ruling circles started to court Gaddafi. Since the visit of Condoleezza Rice to Tripoli, Gaddafi has been silent in his opposition to AFRICOM. In May 2006 Time Magazine said that George W. Bush and Gaddafi see ‘eye to eye’.
Last week, Gaddafi exposed himself very clearly when he called for the division of Nigeria along religious lines. Progressive Pan-Africanists condemned this statement and joined with the Nigerian people who reject this call for division. Nigerian youths and progressives will work to end religious, regional and ethnic manipulations. Religion, ethnicity and regional ideologies are not in themselves political factors. They become so in circumstances where the people’s forces are weakened. The call by Gaddafi is for the weakening of the people’s forces in Nigeria at precisely a moment when Nigeria should be building unity, peace and reconstruction. Gaddafi is an obstacle to the unification of African peoples. African unity is not for sale.