Libyan Brother Leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on the run and a two million Libyan dinar bounty on his head! Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire trapped in a bunker, eventually arrested! Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak charged, in intensive care!
Sudan’s Hassan Omar el-Bashir wanted for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Tunisia’s Ben Ali forced into the diaspora! Yoweri Kaguta Museveni sleepless in Uganda, Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi under siege! And Zimbabwe’s coalition government is failing to hold — it’s typically clay tied together with iron — we can imagine.
These are heady days in Africa. It is sad. Africa’s thugdoms are crumbling like clumps of dirt underfoot. These are days of grief and tribulation.
After half-a-century of independence, Africa continues to sink deeper into a quagmire of dictatorship, corruption and extreme violence, mostly perpetrated by liberators who have, over years, turned against their own people. It’s a sad story.
Like other dictators elsewhere, Africa’s strongmen claim to be guided by “the spiritual force of God as a believer”.
Does this sound familiar? Things are moving fast, too fast for Gaddafi who this week scurried for cover escaping capture by a whisker after rebels keen to end his four-decade-long rule stormed his compound on Tuesday.
His longtime confidante and Libyan ambassador to Zimbabwe Taher Elmagrahi dumped Gaddafi in his hour of need yesterday.
Elmagrahi said: “We follow our Libyan people. What they want is what I follow. When they like this, I follow them. When I came here I was here to represent the Libyan people and I follow them. When they decide to change things, we will follow them.
The embassy represents Libyan authority.”
Immediately thereafter, NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said: “The NTC announces that any of his inner circle who kill Gaddafi or capture him, society will give amnesty or pardon for any crime he has committed.”
Gaddafi’s whereabouts after leaving the compound, perhaps via a tunnel network to adjoining districts, remain unknown, although he appears to have been in Tripoli, at least until recently.
For now, however, Gaddafi and the band of the skunked flunkies can run as much they as want, but they must keep in mind that sooner than later, there will come a time when one of the world’s most brutal dictators finds himself all alone in the darkest corner of an ICC jail.
We thought, experience was the best teacher, but not so, for politicians, who a couple of months ago, saw video footages of Gbagbo, then leader of one of Africa’s economic powerhouses, being collared, manhandled and dragged away with his wife like a common criminal thug.
The last such shocking video came out of Africa in 1990 showing the gruesome torture and execution of Liberia’s Samuel Doe. Suffice to say, Doe had himself staged a televised torture and execution of his predecessor William Tolbert.
And Gbagbo’s arrest footage played straight into the stereotypical cartoonish image of the defiantly erratic African dictator often crudely portrayed in the media.
Gbagbo looked pathetic as his captors surrounded him and barked out orders. He looked so helpless, defenceless, friendless and hopeless.
His forlorn eyes told the whole story. The man who had thumbed his nose at the world for the past six months while his country burned was visibly hyperventilating and drenched in sweat.
He could hardly put on his shirt. It was a totally humiliating experience for Gbagbo. It was devastating, depressing and dispiriting to any African who values self-dignity.
Funny enough, this man was not a run-of-the-mill African dictator. He did not bulldoze or shoot his way to power. For decades, he had used the democratic process to struggle for change in his country.
Unlike other African so-called dictators who graduated with high honours of violence, corruption, human rights violation, double-dealing, deception and skullduggery, Gbagbo graduated with a doctorate from the University of Paris at the Sorbonne, one of the greatest higher learning institutions in Europe.
He was a union activist who organised teachers’ strikes and ardently worked to establish multi-party democracy. He was a lawmaker in the Ivorian National Assembly.
By all measures, Gbagbo was among the best and brightest of Africa’s democratically-leaning leaders.
But, as he completed his first term of office, he was afflicted by “cling-to-power-at-any-cost syndrome”, a political disease more commonly known as “I want to be president-for-life (PFL)” syndrome.
Every African civilian or military leader since Kwame Nkrumah in the early 1960s has suffered from PFL. Gbagbo sacrificed the lives of thousands of his compatriots so that he could become president-for-life.
In the end, none of it mattered. Gbagbo proved to be no different or better than any of the other benighted and villainous African dictators who cling to power by killing, jailing, torturing and stealing from their citizens. He may now end up serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.
Like Gbagbo, the Libyan president-turned-power-fiend could have had a dignified exit from power. He could have left office with the respect and appreciation of his people, and honoured by the international community as an elder African statesman.
Gaddafi could have found different ways of remaining active in Libyan politics. Many, including South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, wanted to facilitate a dignified exit for him.
Like many of his African brothers, Gaddafi chose the path of self-humiliation and ignominy.
His end game is to face justice for his crimes in a Libyan court or before the ICC, which this week issued a warrant of arrest for him and his sons.
There is no question Gaddafi will be put on trial. Yet, most African dictators will pretend a Gaddafi prosecution will have no effect on them.
They will laugh until their belly aches at anyone who suggests that they too will one day stand dazed and with forlorn eyes before the bars of justice and held accountable for their crimes against humanity.
But, it is pertinent to point out that once upon a time, Mubarak, Bashir, Gbagbo, Ben Ali and Gaddafi also laughed at the very suggestion of being held accountable in a court of law. Are they laughing now?
Apparently, dictators learn from each other.
When one dictator gets away with crimes against humanity, the others get emboldened to commit atrocities on humanity.
If the international community had taken vigorous action in Egypt, for instance and brought to justice those who massacred hundreds of innocent demonstrators, the bloodbath and carnage in Libya might have been avoided altogether.