New Internationalist

All aboard Gaddafi?

You can catch the 6 am bus from Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown to the southern capital city Bo. You would spend about five hours on a bright-green luxury bus, probably the most comfortable way of travelling between cities in the country.

But these days, you would pay closer attention when people call it ‘the Gaddafi bus’. This is because some of the best vehicles owned by the public in Sierra Leone were donated by the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi; the name stuck.

Freetown. Photo: Wikimedia Commons (

Gaddafi has always supported Sierra Leone, although sometimes in less admirable ways. He was one of the main supporters of the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, pumping money and arms into the hands of RUF rebel leader Foday Sankoh and former Liberian president Charles Taylor. In 1985, Taylor received military training in Libya as a guest of Gaddafi; there, he met Sankoh, and the rest is bloody history. Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission even recommended that Libya pay reparations for its role in the conflict.

In recent years, Gaddafi’s support has come in the form of food aid, transport and money to build a beautiful mosque in the eastern part of Freetown. This is now popularly known as ‘the Gaddafi mosque’; it is indeed quite striking.

The Gaddafi mosque. Photo by Allison Cross.

Apart from this, there are partnerships to build hotels, mine rutile, bauxite and iron, and also introduce the Libyan mobile network GreenNet into Sierra Leone, which launched earlier this month. This is why the Sierra Leone government has been completely silent on the issue of the 17 February revolution. While the Arab League has condemned Libya’s actions, there hasn’t been a peep out of the African Union. While many receive aid from Libya, others are terrified of Gaddafi because of his keenness to prop up rebel leaders and dictators.

In the past, Freetowners have been in awe of Gaddafi and his maverick presence. On her blog Sweet Sierra Leone, Freetown resident Vickie Remoe recounted the excitement on the streets when he came to visit in 2007.

Today, people I speak to denounce him as a lunatic. For many, he brings back memories of the civil war and of citizens turning on their own. Our office driver Amidu Kuyateh who, like me, has been glued to the BBC World Service for news updates, is horrified. ‘I don’t care how much he’s done for Sierra Leone, he also helped start our war and now he will kill his own people to hold on to power,’ he said to me.

Yes, Gaddafi’s symbolic presence in Freetown is hard to miss. But if he is exiled, I’m sure Sierra Leone, cash-strapped as they are, would not welcome him with open arms.

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  1. #1 Sulakshana 25 Feb 11


    The African Union has now come out and condemned Libyan actions

    Sierra Leone's Information minister Ibrahim Ben Kargbo has also made a statement saying that they were closely monitoring the events in Libya and had advised Sierra Leonean citizens in Libya, about 4,000 in number, to steer clear of the protests.

  2. #3 buy deca durabolin 03 Mar 11

    This is such a wonderful useful resource that you are providing and you give it absent free of charge. I love seeing web sites that understand the value of providing a quality useful resource for free. It?s the old what goes around comes around program.

  3. #6 Plavuse 06 Mar 11

    Coco pictures

    Ues, but not everthing black and white, something is gray :)


  4. #8 Mahakp 01 Apr 11

    Ms Sulakshana,
    Read your first article yday in the latest edition of BBC Focus on Africa an dthru that read all your writings on Sierra Leone.
    Interesting, I must say.
    Came back to the country last year after a gap of 10 years and its a wonderful place to be in.
    Felt good knowing of an Indian/of Indian origin journalist here.

  5. #10 MoamerGadaffi 08 Jun 11


    I would like to finally stop the war, this is definitely not right

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About the author

Sulakshana Gupta a New Internationalist contributor

Sulakshana Gupta is a journalist currently based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. She manages media development projects for the BBC World Service Trust focusing on governance and human rights and in her spare time travels around the world. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own and do not reflect the views of her employer.

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