Never underestimate the power of the situation.
But ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed last week in shocking scenes of reprisal, did so from the beginning of the uprising in February, dismissing the protesters as drunkards, drug addicts, al-Qaeda extremists and “rats”.
People do not just rise up for the sake of it; it’s not a game. The contagion of the Arab Spring had moved to Libya after sweeping through Tunisia and Egypt — in the same manner the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations against corporate greed and governments’ complicity in this have spread across the United States and crossed the seas to Europe.
As the situation escalated, Gaddafi unleashed the full artillery of his army on defenceless protesters. He resorted to what he knew best — force. The people went from neutral to outrage after Gaddafi asserted force. The situation can change in the blink of an eye.
The point of no return was quickly reached even though there was a stalemate for months, until the final denouement last week when Gaddafi was captured in a drain. Gaddafi did not know when it was time to go.
The longer the rule extends, the more personal it becomes; and the more personal it becomes, the more repressive it becomes as the sense of entitlement grows deeper.
But it is what followed after Gaddafi’s capture that shocked many. I wasn’t there, but what I saw on TV turned my stomach.
The mob literally tore Gaddafi apart. People watched this sickening drama on TV and on the Internet in total shock and disbelief, not to mention disgust. From the atheist former Cuban leader Fidel Castro to retired South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, there was broad condemnation of the brutal, unlawful killing. Castro said Gaddafi was “kidnapped and exhibited like a trophy of war, conduct that violates the most elemental principles of Muslim norms and other religious beliefs”.
You can’t treat a fellow human being like that, even in death. Tutu condemned the killing, saying mob justice and violence should always be deplored. “The manner of the killing of Gaddafi . . . totally detracts from the noble enterprise of instilling a culture of human rights and democracy in Libya,” he said in a statement, “. . . the people of Libya should have demonstrated better values than those of their erstwhile oppressor.”
It’s not a question of sympathy for Gaddafi, but holding the new, professedly more just regime to higher standards of lawfulness and human rights. Tutu said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could not be proud of calling for Gaddafi’s killing. “Nor is killing a human being something to be celebrated,” he said. As the saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right. It ought to be restated that Nato intervention was decisive in that it tipped the scales against Gaddafi.
But what drives people to such morbid, sadistic delight at the suffering of a fellow human being? The people were crazed and brutal – just like Gaddafi himself. Is it that you reap what you sow? The anti-Gaddafi fighters, due to their irregular nature, were fragmented with some units acting alone which made for a truly chaotic situation, but not many people were prepared for the “live” torture and execution of Gaddafi.
This teenager, who claimed to have shot Gaddafi dead, showed a bloodied shirt allegedly removed from the dead Gaddafi and a golden ring engraved with the name of Gaddafi’s second wife, Safia, to the camera. Now, isn’t that morbid, revolting, demonic?
In some ways, it is this misguided, mindless behaviour on the spur of the moment which last month led to the jailing of Midlands Governor Jason Moyo’s son and his two accomplices for the brutal murder of an MDC-T activist three years ago.
It’s unfortunate that some people get caught up in the tidal wave of emotion such as happened after Gaddafi’s capture.
But this does not absolve them. As children are taught in school, it’s alright to make mistakes, but be prepared to pay for them. The people who participated in Gaddafi’s killing will have to pay for that, whether through criminal charges or their own guilty consciences.
The sad reality is, when these people wake up in the morning they are no longer thinking as a mob. They return to being individuals with families and responsibilities.
They will be recognised, people will remember what they did. Machaya, in addition to his son being jailed for 18 years, has voluntarily paid recompense to the murder victim’s family to reportedly appease the ngozi/ingozi (avenging spirit) of the deceased.
Yes, there is a personal side to it. As both Tutu and Castro rightly said, no human being deserves such treatment, not even the worst of the worst.
But, in my view, the best summation of the events was from former Ghanaian strongman Jerry Rawlings – he didn’t erase Gaddafi’s achievements nor did he avoid tracing the roots of Gaddafi’s eventual bloody downfall.
Rawlings, a long-time ally of the slain Libyan leader who also came into power through a military coup, said Gaddafi had selflessly empowered his people, but unfortunately “the empowerment eventually turned out to be his nemesis”. “In giving it all to his people, I guess the mistake he made was that he just could not let go of the empowered people,” Rawlings said.
Deconstructing the mob’s behaviour during the capture and killing of Gaddafi tells us a lot about who we are as humans, the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. What we saw was mob mentality at work, and for mob mentality to have its way, the right, or “wrong” — conditions have to come together in a perfect storm – that of an unyielding leader against a determined people in an institutional vacuum created by that very leader as he consolidated and personalised power which led to his brutal summary execution without being afforded a trial – even a show one.
Yes, Gaddafi was a victim of the institutional destruction he wrought with his own hand.
But, still, the sight of the last moments of a bleeding, dishevelled, frightened, pleading Gaddafi has been haunting and troubling me all week.
I would not wish that on anyone – even my worst enemy.