After 30 years as a false revolutionary, Colonel Mu’ammar Qaddafi is now marketing himself as an African hero and a hater of ‘everything Arab’, opening a racial can of worms with the potential of dividing the Muslims of the continent and setting ‘Arab’ against ‘African’ on a larger stage. But for those perverse admirers of his eccentricity there is good news: he has designed a ‘safe’ car dubbed the ‘Libyan Rocket’, and is planning to build a river across the Saharan desert.
Qaddafi (who for many years posed as an Arab nationalist and claimed to have inherited the mantle of the late Gamal Abdul-Nasser) has turned against his fellow Arabs because of their leaders’ cooperation with the seven-year sanctions of the US and the UN against Libya. African leaders, in contrast, ignored the sanctions, visiting Tripoli in defiance of the ban on travelling to the country. The suspension of the sanctions was another reason for the celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of his seizure of power in a military coup in September 1969.
The sanctions, first imposed in 1992, were suspended in April after Qaddafi handed over two Libyans suspected of bombing an aircraft in 1988. The fact that the Americans are maintaining their unilateral sanctions, against investors in Libya’s oil industry, dampened neither Qaddafi’s festive spirits, nor his rhetoric at a special summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) convened in his hometown of Sirte.
Forty-three African heads of state turned up, the largest gathering of leaders in the history of the Organisation of African Unity, to hear the delighted Qaddafi lecture them on the need for African unity and the rosy future awaiting the beloved continent. They approved the colonel’s blueprint for the establishment of a new economic and political bloc on the world stage, the Africa Union, by 2001, and declared themselves inspired by Qaddafi’s call for ‘a strong and united Africa’.
They did not, of course, add that many of them would not have been there had the Libyan government not paid their travelling expenses. Nor did they highlight Qaddafi’s generousity in paying the $4 million in arrears that nine African countries had owed to the OAU, which debts would have precluded their participation in the proceedings. Many of the ‘leaders’ who turned up at Sirte are corrupt dictators lured by Libya’s petro-dollars and Qaddafi’s renowned generosity towards those willing to massage his considerable ego. Libya, which has a population of only 6 million, has oil-reserves of more than 1 billion barrels.
Qaddafi’s obsession with African unity follows his disillusionment with Arab politics and Arab regimes. But his reasons for ditching Arab nationalism are as confused as his ramblings about African unity.
In an interview with the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi on August 31, he said that the Arabs have no honour or dignity because they ‘live to eat’. He then added that he was on excellent personal terms with all Arab leaders except the Lebanese. This was possible, he said, because, having left the Arab camp, he had no bone to pick with any of them. “They sold out and that is their business,” he said.
When reminded that the Arab people had stood by Libya during the sanctions, he said he was planning to unite them with Africa, adding that the Arabia peninsula had once been part of the African continent. He then pulled a ‘new map’ out of his drawer to explain his plan for Arab-African union.
Asked whether there was a place on his map for Palestine, he said that there was as Palestinians were part of the ‘Arab nation’. When Yassir Arafat set up his Palestinian Authority, Qaddafi had expelled all the Palestinians from Libya, saying they now had a country to go to.
The Libyan leader’s confusion is apparent in all his speeches on the issues of Arab and African unity. When, for instance, he addressed a gathering called ‘Arab Democratic Dialogue’ in Tripoli in November last year, he called on “all North African Arabs who do not consider themselves African” to leave the continent.
The African continent certainly does not need Qaddafi’s tortured mind and the inflated ego. But in one sense it is a blessing that he is preoccupied with the issues of African unity and peace, instead of squandering Libya’s oil-wealth on financing African conflicts as he used to do - provided, that is, that the fall-out from his anti-Arab rhetoric can be contained.
Muslimedia: October 1-15, 1999