- Reactions to the Allied powers’ intervention in Libya have differed, but a number of African leaders have already indicated they would rather give diplomacy a chance. In this opinion piece, President Museveni of Uganda gives his reasons in detail.
By the time Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969, I was a Third Year university student at Dar es Salaam. We welcomed him because he was in the tradition of Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt who had a nationalist and pan-Arabist position.
Soon, however, problems cropped up with Gaddafi as far as Uganda and Black Africa are concerned:
1. Idi Amin came to power with the support of Britain and Israel because they thought he was uneducated enough to be used by them. Amin, however, turned against his sponsors when they refused to sell him guns to fight Tanzania.
Unfortunately, Gaddafi, without getting enough information about Uganda, jumped in to support Amin presumably because Amin was a ‘Muslim’ and Uganda was a ‘Muslim country’ where Muslims were being “oppressed”’ by Christians.
Amin executed a lot of people and Gaddafi was identified with these mistakes. In 1972 and 1979, Gaddafi sent Libyan troops to defend Amin when we attacked him.
2. The second big mistake was Gaddafi’s position vis-à-vis the African Union. Since 1999, he has been pushing for a United States of Africa. We tried to politely point out to Gaddafi that this was difficult in the short and medium term. We should, instead, aim at the Economic Community of Africa and, where possible, also aim at regional federations.
Gaddafi would not relent. He would not respect the rules of the AU. He would resurrect something that has been covered by previous meetings. He would ‘overrule’ a decision taken by all other African Heads of State. Some of us were forced to come out and oppose his wrong position and, working with others, we repeatedly defeated his illogical position.
3. The third mistake has been the tendency by Gaddafi to interfere in the internal affairs of many African countries using the little money Libya has compared to those countries.
One blatant example was his involvement with cultural leaders of Black Africa — kings, chiefs, etc. Since the political leaders of Africa had refused to back his project of an African government, Gaddafi, incredibly, thought that he could by-pass them and work with these kings to implement his wishes.
I warned Gaddafi in Addis Ababa that action would be taken against any Ugandan king who involved himself in politics because it was against our Constitution. I moved a motion in Addis Ababa to expunge from the records of the AU all references to kings who had made speeches in our forum because they had been invited there illegally by Gaddafi.
4. The fourth big mistake was by most of the Arab leaders, including Gaddafi, to some extent. This was in connection with the long suffering people of Southern Sudan.
Many of the Arab leaders either supported or ignored the suffering of the Black people in that country. This unfairness always created tension and friction between us and the Arabs, including Gaddafi to some extent.
However, I must salute him and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for travelling to Khartoum just before the Referendum in Sudan and advising President Omar el-Bashir to respect the results of that exercise.
5. Sometimes, Gaddafi and other Middle Eastern radicals do not distance themselves sufficiently from terrorism even when they are fighting for a just cause. Terrorism is the use of indiscriminate violence — not distinguishing between military and non-military targets.
The Middle Eastern radicals, quite different from the revolutionaries of Black Africa, seem to say that any means is acceptable as long as you are fighting the enemy. That is why they hijack planes, use assassinations, and plant bombs in bars.
Why bomb bars? People who go to bars are normally merry-makers, not politically minded people.
We were together with the Arabs in the anti-colonial struggle.
The Black African liberation movements, however, developed differently from the Arab ones. Where we used arms, we fought soldiers or sabotaged infrastructure, but never targeted non-combatants.
These indiscriminate methods tend to isolate the struggles of the Middle East and the Arab world. It would be good if the radicals in these areas could streamline their work methods in this area of using violence indiscriminately.
These five points above are some of the negatives associated with Gaddafi. The positions have been unfortunate and unnecessary.
Nevertheless, Gaddafi has also had many positive points, objectively speaking. These have been in favour of Africa, Libya and the Third World. I will deal with them point by point:
1. Gaddafi has been having an independent foreign policy and, of course, also independent internal policies. I am not able to understand the position of Western countries, which appear to resent independent-minded leaders and seem to prefer puppets.
Puppets are not good for any country. Most of the countries that have transitioned from Third World to First World status since 1945 have had independent-minded leaders: South Korea (Park Chung-hee), Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew), China People’s Republic (Mao Zedong, Chou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Marshal Yang Shangkun, Li Peng, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jing Tao, etc), Malaysia (Dr Mahthir Mohamad), Brazil (Lula Da Silva), Iran (the Ayatollahs).
In Africa, we have benefited from a number of independent-minded leaders: Col. Nasser of Egypt, Mwalimu Nyerere of Tanzania, and Samora Machel of Mozambique. That is how Southern Africa was liberated. That is how we got rid of Amin. The stopping of genocide in Rwanda and the overthrow of Mobutu were as a result of efforts of independent-minded African leaders.
Gaddafi, whatever his faults, is a true nationalist. I prefer nationalists to puppets of foreign interests.
Where have the puppets caused the transformation of countries? I need some assistance with information on this from those who are familiar with puppetry.
Therefore, the independent-minded Gaddafi had some positive contribution to Libya, I believe, as well as Africa and the Third World.
I will take one little example. At the time we were fighting the criminal dictatorships in Uganda, we had a problem arising from a complication caused by our failure to capture enough guns at Kabamba on the 6th of February, 1981.
Gaddafi gave us a small consignment of 96 rifles, 100 anti-tank mines, etc., that was very useful. He did not consult Washington or Moscow before he did this. This was good for Libya, for Africa and for the Middle East.
2. Before Gaddafi came to power in 1969, a barrel of oil was 40 American cents. He launched a campaign to withhold Arab oil unless the West paid more for it. I think the price went up to US$20 per barrel. When the Arab-Israel war of 1973 broke out, the barrel of oil went up to US$40.
I am, therefore, surprised to hear that many oil producers in the world, including the Gulf countries, do not appreciate the historical role played by Gaddafi on this issue. The huge wealth many of these oil producers are enjoying was, at least in part, due to Gaddafi’s efforts.
The Western countries have continued to develop in spite of paying more for oil. It, therefore, means that the pre-Gaddafi oil situation was characterised by super exploitation by Western countries.
3. I have never taken time to investigate socio-economic conditions within Libya. When I was last there, I could see good roads even from the air. From the TV pictures, you can even see the rebels zooming up and down in pick-up vehicles on very good roads accompanied by Western journalists.
Who built these good roads? Who built the oil refineries in Brega and those other places where the fighting has been taking place recently? Were these facilities built during the time of the king and his American as well as British allies or were they built by Gaddafi?
In Tunisia and Egypt, some youths immolated themselves because they had failed to get jobs. Are the Libyans without jobs also? If so, why, then, are there hundreds of thousands of foreign workers? Is Libya’s policy of providing so many jobs to Third World workers bad?
Are all the children going to school in Libya? Was that the case before Gaddafi? Is the conflict in Libya economic or purely political?
Possibly Libya could have transitioned more if they encouraged the private sector more. However, this is something the Libyans are better placed to judge.
As it is, Libya is a middle income country with GDP standing at US$89.03 billion. This is about the same as the GDP of South Africa at the time Mandela took over leadership in 1994 and it about the current size of GDP in Spain.
4. Gaddafi is one of the few secular leaders in the Arab world. He does not believe in Islamic fundamentalism, which is why women have been able to go to school, to join the Army, etc. This is a positive point on Gaddafi’s side.
Coming to the present crisis, therefore, we need to point out some issues:
1. The first is to distinguish between demonstrations and insurrections. Peaceful demonstrations should not be fired on with live bullets. Of course, even peaceful demonstrations should co-ordinate with the police to ensure that they do not interfere with the rights of her citizens.
When rioters are, however, attacking Police stations and Army barracks with the aim of taking power, then, they are no longer demonstrators; they are insurrectionists. They will have to be treated as such. A responsible government would have to use reasonable force to neutralise them.
Of course, the ideal responsible government should also be an elected one by the people at periodic intervals. If there is a doubt about the legitimacy of a government and the people decide to launch an insurrection, that should be the decision of the internal forces. It should not be for external forces to arrogate themselves that role, for often, they do not have enough knowledge to decide rightly.
Excessive external involvement always brings terrible distortions. Why should external forces involve themselves? That is a vote of no confidence in the people themselves.
A legitimate internal insurrection, if that is the strategy chosen by the leaders of that effort, can succeed. The Shah of Iran was defeated by an internal insurrection; the Russian Revolution in 1917 was an internal insurrection; the Revolution in Zanzibar was an internal insurrection; the changes in Ukraine, Georgia, etc., all were internal insurrections. It should be for the leaders of the resistance in that country to decide their strategy, not for foreigners to do so.
I am totally allergic to foreign, political and military involvement in sovereign countries, especially the African countries.
If foreign intervention is good, then, African countries should be the most prosperous countries in the world because we have had the greatest dosages of that: slave trade, colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism, etc.
All those foreign imposed phenomena have, however, been disastrous.
Mr Museveni is the president of Uganda