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The West's new friend


SO enormous is Muammar al Qadhafi's sense of self importance that he named his small book of political thoughts the Green Book. He obviously saw himself as being in the same league as Chairman Mao, who authored the Red Book so dutifully waved by the young militants of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The Green Book purports to solve all the major problems of political organization in the modern world and contemptuously dismisses virtually all prior political ideas. Parliaments are undemocratic since ‘the mere existence of a parliament means the absence of the people'. Ideas rooted in class struggle are futile for even if the working class triumphs in its struggle with capital, ‘attributes of other eliminated classes emerge in the very ranks of the working class'. The only acceptable form of modern political organization, according to Qadhafi, is the people's congress. Only people's congresses built up from the bottom of society would guarantee real democracy. Popular democracy is of course a positive idea, but it certainly wasn't an invention of Qadhafi's as the Green Book claims. Furthermore Libya under Qadhafihas never been anything but the dictatorship of one man.

Qadhafi's ideas concerning political organization were matched by radical rhetoric against imperialism. Qadhafi's association with a number of groups that pursued their objectives through violent means earned him notoriety. In the mid-1980s the Americans claimed to have evidence that he had sent a hit squad to kill President Reagan following the downing of two Libyan air force planes by American pilots. That claim was subsequently discredited, but there is credible evidence of Libyan involvement in other acts of political violence. Libyan agents have been convicted of attempting to assassinate dissidents in exile.

Several thousand movies later, Nollywood is now asking itself: what next?

But Qadhafi now says he has left all that behind. The struggle against imperialism has apparently been abandoned; the priority now is to restore relations with the Western powers. No longer a sponsor of terrorists, according to him (and Tony Blair), he is now actually an ally in the ‘war against terror'. It seems a dizzying transformation.

Qadhafi's inspiration when he overthrew Libya's King Idris in 1969 came from Nasser's vision of pan-Arab nationalism. But Qadhafi's expression of this nationalism consisted principally of a number of failed merger attempts with other Arab nations, including Sadat's Egypt, which were clearly incompatible with Libya's proclaimed anti-imperialist agenda. It seemed that none of these attempted mergers was preceded by any clear thinking about advancing the interests of the peoples in the countries Qadhafiwanted to merge into one state. Rather, the primary motivation appears to have been the creation of large, powerful Arab nations. It seemed that the mere declaration that two countries had become ONE would eliminate all the possible contradictions between them, giving birth overnight to a powerful new nation.

After several failures Qadhafiabandoned his vision of a powerful Arab state and turned his attentions to Africa. Once again his vision was to create one powerful African nation out of 50 disparate states. The idea of a united African nation has a distinguished history. It has animated the work of thinkers and political leaders like WEB Du Bois, George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah. But while these thinkers and leaders appreciated that African unity required careful thought and planning, Qadhafi's own approach was, as usual, peremptory. What was required was right away to create a single African army and a single government. Presumably unity would then occur as a matter of course.

The horrors perpetrated by those gangs of killers must ultimately be attributed to Muammar al Qadhafi

Muammar al Qadhafi's schemes for grand mergers may be dismissed as the grandiose dreams of the leader of a small desert nation. His eccentricities, including living in a tent in the desert and his all-female platoons of bodyguards, may be amusing. But the devastation Qadhafihas caused in West Africa is all too serious. The two most notorious criminals in the recent history of West Africa, the Liberian Charles Taylor (now in exile in Nigeria) and the Sierra Leonean Foday Sankoh (now dead), were products of Qadhafi's training camps for African ‘revolutionaries' and their guerrilla groups, the NPFL and RUF, were armed and supported by the Libyan leader. These groups killed thousands of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans in savage wars that lasted more than a decade and whose effects are still being felt in those two unfortunate countries. The horrors perpetrated by those gangs of killers – the hundreds of casual massacres, the hacking off of limbs, the turning of young children into soldiers taught to commit bestial acts, the turning of young girls into the concubines of drug-crazed militia commanders, the destruction of the moral and social fabric in Liberia and Sierra Leone – must ultimately be attributed to Muammar al Qadhafi.

For Qadhafi , the making of revolution was just another extension of the yearning for grandeur, another sport. Like the obsessive search for nations to merge with; like the pursuit of a nuclear programme which has now been dismantled and shipped to the United States after millions of dollars were frittered away; like the Green Book which proposes itself as ‘the final solution to the problems of governance'. In dumping his radical rhetoric, Qadhafihardly gave up anything because it was anyway always empty talk and a load of fantasy.

As thousands of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans found out so tragically, Qadhafi's fantasies could be very dangerous because he was willing to put Libya's oil money behind them. There may be debate about the quality of the evidence used to convict the Libyan agent Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing, but Qadhafi's sponsorship of the NPFL and the RUF is undeniable. The work of the War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone will not be complete until this new ‘friend of the West' is made to answer for his crimes.

The novelist Ike Oguine lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

New Internationalist issue 368 magazine cover This article is from the June 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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