It is a busy Thursday in the office. People are running up and down the corridors trying to put final touches to the launch of Ubuntu Initiative, a project that promotes social cohesion among migrant and host communities. Poverty is one of the factors escalating migration in Africa.
As we prepared, we knew that thousands of people were being deported and probably mistreated. Just less than five kilometres from Sandton, city police were deployed to quell a volatile xenophobia situation.
The locals were demanding a handover of houses owned by foreigners or face the consequences. But we went on with our preparations.
We believed our Ubuntu Initiative would diffuse some of these tensions. But we also wanted governments to take responsibility. For such a call, you would need more than luck to get attention.
The launch still had to happen and preparations continued. As I was coming from a short meeting, I heard a loud scream from the next office. It was a scream of excitement from a European colleague. “(Muammar) Gaddafi was killed,” she shouted.
But the scream was not reciprocated with the same exuberance; in fact I was stone faced and baffled. As expected she asked why I was not excited about the news. “Where I come from, we don’t celebrate people’s death,” I replied. “But he was a dictator,” she quaked.
Unlike Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab countries, the story of Libya will remain one of the mysteries of our time. It will haunt many African leaders for failing to stop the invasion of Libya. Was the war in Libya necessary? For whom and whose interests?
Perhaps, to understand the context better, let’s start by the easier way of looking at things — blaming. Can we blame the oil resources or Gaddafi himself for his downfall? Perhaps both.
Oil and gas resources have always attracted trouble in many Africa countries, so someone — the West — is to blame for fanning trouble. But Gaddafi also partly takes the blame for grandstanding and standing in the way of the West in their quest for Libyan oil.
He also takes the blame for triple-crossing. While being an advocate for United States of Africa under the African Union (AU) banner, Libya is a member of the Arab League and was considering to be a member of the European Union (EU).
For EU, a country with substantial oil and gas would be a welcome addition than Greece which brings with it debts, poverty, migrants and economic instability.
The danger in that is, while the AU was dilly-dallying on the endorsement of no-fly zone, the Arab League rushed to endorse which rendered Libya vulnerable to air strikes.
As most Africa leaders grumbled about the manner in which the Libyan issue was handled, Tripoli was pummelled by air strikes while the rebels were striking oil deals with Western companies.
Once again, let’s blame someone here. It is easy to blame the West and even in Libya we wont spare them either. African leaders have blamed Nato for atrocities committed during the hunt for Gaddafi.
They have been blamed for their hunger for resources. They took the blame for making a unilateral decision to invade Libya.
In fact of all the Arab countries that caught the cataclysmic fires of people revolutions, only Libya warranted military, Nato intervention. Of course Nato’s intention was not to free the people of Libya, but to lay their hands on the oil and gas pipelines.
Before we blame them any further, let’s pretend we are the West — just for once. A fisherman who goes fishing to feed his family is surely a good leader and responsible to his family, but isn’t he seen as a murderer to the fish community?
Whatever your take, the West do not care about Africans, their human rights or democracy. If you think they care then ask them to invade China.
They will never care about Libyan freedom unless it opens more oil taps for their markets. If you resist, your dead body will be dragged in the streets for television cameras.
Gaddafi’s crime as a dictator who denied his people freedom and democracy is used as an entry point to his demise.
As an autocratic leader, he was in power for over forty years and one can’t help wondering if someone who had lived under Gaddafi’s autocratic rule could still remember the feeling of freedom.
I don’t condone killing and any other human rights abuses by leaders, neither do I ignore the fact that Nato might have killed more people than Gaddafi.
Unlike many African leaders, Gaddafi almost tried to use the oil money to benefit his people.
The UN Development Programme in 2010 said Libya had “high human development” in every major index category, including gender inequality, empowerment, perceptions of individual well-being and happiness, civic and community well-being, enabling environment, economy and infrastructure, access to information and communication technology, and education.
Electricity was free for all its citizens while banks didn’t charge interest as they were state-owned. Housing was considered a human right by this dictator.
All newlyweds were entitled to $50,000 by the government to buy their first apartment to start up a family.
A mother who gave birth to a child received $5,000. Education and medical care were free. Literacy shot up to 83%.
Over 25% of Libyans have a university degree. A Libyan who ventured into farming would get a free farm, equipment and other necessary inputs to kick-start the project.
Cars were 50% subsidised by the government and the price of petrol was only $0,14 per litre. The world’s largest irrigation project — the Great Man-Made River project is found in Libya, to make water readily available throughout the desert country.
Libyans didn’t know poverty as we know it this side of Africa. This begs the question. Who is a better leader, one who feeds and pampers you, but denies you democracy, or one who gives you democracy in poverty?