At a time of universal deceit, according to George Orwell, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. At a time of political dishonesty, according to me, writing the truth is a treasonable act. Otherwise, why is no-one telling African leaders the truth that going to Libya to celebrate Muammar Ghaddafi’s fortieth year of dictatorship and complete lack of respect for his people’s will and rights, is not something for any president worth his salt to do especially when they have regular elections and at least pretend to be listening to dissenting views from their people.
In fact the very fact Mr Ghaddafi heads the African Union, makes me feel ashamed of being a part of this continent. This, despite the AU’s disapproving statement against the military regime in Guinea and Ghaddafi’s support for the junta as was evident in his last visit to Sierra Leone and what he has said about them. If African leaders could allow Ghaddafi to sit on their head, ECOWAS should simply leave Niger’s Mamadou Tandja alone. Tandja who has callously forgotten what befell his predecessor Ibrahim Bare Mainassara who was assassinated because he tried to be a sight-tight president, is clearly a man who is raping democracy and brutally too. But certainly he is better than Ghaddafi who has no democracy to rape.
What is even more besmirching of especially the attitude of African leaders is their kowtowing tendency before the Libyan leader. “Flamboyant as ever despite his wrinkled face and rambling speech,” writes The Economist, Ghaddafi is increasingly fawned upon. This despite the murky past and unrepentant present of the north African leader who like a yoyo has dangled between Arabism and Africanism as inconsistently as utterances have many times been erratic.
“Mr Ghaddafi’s Libya is a country that has been systemically mismanaged for a generation, at virtually every level of government,” writes The Economist in its last week issue even though it also talks about the growth in school enrolment, life expectancy and the fall in infant mortality. Truth is, put into perspective its huge oil wealth, $ 46 billion exported last year alone, democracy and respect for the will of the people would have far advanced Libya beyond what many think the country has achieved under its current undemocratic governance.
With one of his two sons tipped to succeed him, Ghaddafi’s current leadership style is as bad as the monarchy of King Idris he overthrew exactly 40 years ago yesterday as a 27-year-old soldier. Perhaps what is worse is Ghadaffi’s meddlesome attitude in many parts of the world and in Africa for all the wrong reasons and with all the wrong methods used. The barbarism that greeted Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s was thanks largely to Ghaddafi. And this is where I cannot understand the reason for the intercourse between Freetown and Tripoli even without that dark chapter closed.
In a bid to making a show of the folly of Africa leaders, Ghadaffi fixed a make-believe summit for this week in Libya just so that he would embark on his usual showmanship. I understand that a private jet was sent to Freetown to fly President Ernest Bai Koroma who has also fallen for the Libyan leader’s tantrums of late. Unlike on previous occasions, President Koroma cleverly avoided falling for the bait this time around.
But it still astounds me how come President Koroma and most of those in his administration were very critical of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s love affair with the Libyan leader when they were in opposition but are now even more enthusiastic. Like Kabbah before him, Koroma has surrendered our sovereignty and status as a rising democracy and respecter of rights to a leader in Ghadaffi who our Truth and Reconciliation Commission report implicates in our carnage of the 1990s.
And was it right as I was told in another of Ghaddafi’s empire states, The Gambia, that when President Koroma went there he praised President Yahyah Jammeh’s record of leadership of his country saying he’d gone there to “learn” from a man who has cowed his people into complete subservience and fear and imprisonment and elimination. It all sounds like President Barack Obama attempting to replace Gitmo with a Nazi concentration camp.
Libya in the last forty years has brought shame to our continent. It is a regime that has no room for elections or dissenting opinions. It is a regime that sponsored a reign of terror in especially in West Africa when it provided training for rebels that were to later pillage Liberia and Sierra Leone and Guinea. Memories that seem to have evaporated like candle in the wind. This must be reawakened for Ghaddafi to admit to and apologise for, regardless of the mighty mosque he may have built at Rokupa in eastern Freetown or his cosmetic offers of help.
It was the Czech French writer, Malan Kandra who in The book of laughter and forgetting, writes “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. Our thoughts as Ghaddafi marks his day, go out to our compatriots who were brutally murdered by rebels trained and possibly armed and financed by Ghaddafi. They remain in our memory as much as all those who contributed in strengthening their brutality.
Until the Libyan leader acknowledges the barbarism he helped perpetuate in countries in Africa especially mine, until he allows for alternative views in his country, forty years should be commemorated, not celebrated by Libyans and outsiders who have suffered from the clutches of Mr Ghaddafi who like Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem The Eagle: “He clasped the crag with crooked hands;…The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls.”
Ghadaffi’s years in power have been characterised by tyranny and if Libyans had freedom to so do, they would be booing at him. And if those Sierra Leoneans and Liberians killed by the wars in the two countries had their way, they would rise up and object that officials are represented them at all even without a public apology or acceptance of involvement by Ghaddafi. Never mind compensation. Ghaddafi you are not forgiven no matter the number or size of the mosques you have built. And our leaders, past and present, should know this…and I think including those in the West. Oil and trade are not everything; nor are handouts. By Umaru Fofana