The impact of the fall of Ghaddafi, should it happen, could be equivalent to the impact of the fall of the Soviet Union to Sub-Sahara Africa. (Photo: Col. Muamarr Ghaddafi)
The sudden transition of the political landscape, especially in West Africa, in the 1990s owed much to the fall of the Soviet Union when countries that benefited from super-power patronage found themselves with limited external support. The results of that, without doubt, were the very destabilising wars and coups that took over in countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Since the 1970s, Libya had been the preferred ground for Sub-Saharan warlords who used it to train and arm fighters, who were then sent back to their respective countries to ignite national upheavals and skirmishes. Such recruitments were very effective in the Sierra Leone and Liberia wars.
Today, not many Sub-Saharan leaders would deny receiving financial support from the celebrated Colonel. Asked by a Western journalist as to where he got his money from to build his spanking new airport, hospitals and roads, President Yayah Jammeh of the Gambia responded by saying that it was from the ‘Bank of Allah’. That ‘Bank of Allah’ was located north of the Sahara in Tripoli, and it never gave out pennies. In their desperate attempt to let their wretched, cancerous and corrupt party, SLPP, remain in power, supporters of the former President of Sierra Leone, Tejan Kabba, announced in 2007 that a shipload of rice from Libya was heading voters’ way. That prompted a massive euphoria in cities, in anticipation of free food in exchange for votes. In fact Ghaddafi became so influential that he was granted an honorary membership to the Sierra Leone parliament. That was another defining stage in the bastardisation process of Sierra Leone’s democracy.
In most countries in the region, Ghaddafi is the patron guru of dictators such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. He propped him up so as to brutally and mindlessly attack his own people, blaming them for his failings.
Coups and elections are not successful without Ghaddafi’s intervention one way or the other. Prolonged and destructive civil wars are not possible without being sustained by the man who wants to unify Africa.
The significance of Ghaddafi in Sub-Sahara Africa should not be underestimated at all; he is the only North African leader who looks southward. He considers himself very much African, and he advocates for a united Africa. This claim and link enabled him to detach himself from the Middle East, and used his huge oil wealth to bankroll the AU (Africa Union) (formally OAU- Organisation of African Union). Since the beginning of the Libyan upheaval the AU has remained silent, fearing that if any hasty statement is made to condemn the revered Colonel, it may come back to haunt them and their crumbling regimes. Even though evidence of extreme human rights abuses in the country has been made widely known, the AU still remains tightlipped. This fear of speaking out is not so much about the seizure to financially prop-up dictatorial regimes; it is more or less about the man’s capabilities to change such regimes in these states should he survive his very own homegrown rebellion.
It is now a matter of who first is going to put his head in the snood by publicly condemning the Colonel. African dictators are fully familiar with the proverb that one should never crack a nut on the head of he who carries you on his shoulders. The widely publicised mercenaries being used in the quelling of the Libyan rebellion has come under scrutiny recently. But, for those Sub-Saharan Africans who are typically familiar with the operations of the Libyan state, seeing African fighters in military jeeps on the streets is no surprise. Were they members of specific states’ forces from Sub-Saharan Africa who were on training missions but became caught-up in this bloody affair? The answer may be found in what has been happening in authoritative states; fighters who spearheaded the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia spent several years in the 1980s training in various military camps in Libya. And so did Angolan, Ugandan, and Congolese core rebel fighters. For many years, these training facilities acted as additional mentoring and monitoring schemes between the then pariah Libya and its subordinates. They also became places where new warlords were born; Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, Prince Johnson, Yoweri Museveni, Kukoi Samba Sanyan (Gambia), and the Kabila family of Congo.
Ghaddafi filled the void that was left by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Men and women who once trained in the Soviet Union now had a shorter distance to travel. Dictators who once received patronage funds from the Soviet Union now had Libyan oil money available to them. Students who once queued to go to ‘the USSR’ for studies now had to go to Libya under state sponsorships.
Ghaddafi’s influence on countries and institutions did not only stop in Africa; in the last few days the head of the London School of Economics resigned after it became public that the institution received substantial funding from Libya.
The departure of Ghaddafi, should it happen, would leave a very big void indeed. The question, however, is who would fill that void? That answer lies fairly and squarely with the Chinese! The Chinese have managed to put themselves in such an economic pole position in Africa that even new roads built by them ends on the East coast looking China-ward (just like Europeans did in colonial Africa when all roads ended on the West coast looking Westward! Easy shipment.) China is now so engaged in Africa that it ships anything that looks vaguely valuable! Dictators such as Theodore Obiang, who relied on the Colonel for security, would now have to look China-ward.
The current scramble by Western governments to gain a foothold in Libya backfired in some fashion when Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, announced that Ghaddafi had left for Venezuela during the second day of protest! The defiant Colonel appeared live on national TV to tell Hague that he was not for leaving. As Britain was busy airlifting its citizens out of Libya, China was shipping oil from the east coast of Libya! It is even worrying for the British government when Libyan rebels held eight of its SAS military personnel.
For those African dictators who know the old Colonel very well, fence sitting is the best option for now. That, nonetheless, is very dangerous for their health.
President Koroma should now address the position of one of his honorary MPs.
James Fallah-Williams, Sierra Leonean Human Rights Activist