CHEGE MBITIRU: Gaddafi son centre of his diplomacy - Daily Nation

Gaddafi son centre of his diplomacy

Sunday February 21 2010

By CHEGE MBITIRU

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi doesn’t dish out apologies. That aside, he owes one over a diplomatic row that needed not occur. After all, at issue is just a family nutter. That’s Hannibal, one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons. Ironically, he’s named after one of the most disciplined, tactful and greatest generals of the ancient world. Hannibal even managed to persuade elephants to cross the Alps to the horror of Roman soldiers.

If Hannibal the general terrified parts of ancient Europe with military genius, Hannibal Gaddafi has irritated parts of the continent with a spoiled kid antics. Coincidentally, Switzerland, a most synonymous with the Alps, has had the latest longest row with Libya, courtesy of Hannibal. Last week, Libya drugged other European nations into the argument, via Switzerland.

Nearly 19 months ago police in Geneva charged Hannibal and wife with mistreating two servants. Reportedly, Hannibal compensated the servants and authorities dropped the charges. Libya’s retaliatory measures included suspending oil sales to Switzerland, threatening to close Swiss businesses, withdrawing reported $7.1 billions of assets from Swiss banks, arresting two Swiss nationals, and reducing air flights.

A bizarre twist was a Libyan arrest of a brother of one of the servants, a Moroccan who was later freed. A civil suit Hannibal and Libya filed against Geneva authorities is awaiting international arbitration. In an attempt to end the row, Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz went to Tripoli. “I express my apologies to the Libyan people for the unjust arrest of two Libyan diplomats by the Geneva police,” he said.

Relations would go back to normal. Libya threw out its part of the deal, Switzerland said. A humiliated President Merz faced criticism of “capitulation” at home. A Libyan newspaper said Switzerland had blacklisted 188 Libyans from entering the country. The list included Muammar Gaddafi and family. In retaliation, Libya announced visa ban to travellers from the Schengen zone. The zone comprises of 25 European countries that have abolished border controls for each other’s nationals.

Twenty-two of them are European Union members. Since 2001, Hannibal’s scuffles with European authorities have been widely reported. They included an alleged attack with a fire extinguisher of three police officers in Rome. Also in Rome, Hannibal was reported in a brawl that left six photographers wounded.

Then there’s a reported case of beating a female companion in a Paris hotel, an 87 miles per hour police chase on the wrong side of the Champs Elysées, waving a handgun at the officers, and breaking furniture in a hotel. The Daily Mail reported last Christmas Day police were called to a London hotel over a domestic issue. It was in Hannibal’s room. His wife ended up in hospital for treatment of a suspected broken nose. She told police the injuries were accidental, from a fall.

The 34-year-old Hannibal’s defence is always diplomatic immunity. It’s difficult to imagine that Italian, Swiss, French, and British police conspire against Hannibal. Very undiplomatic behaviour is at play. Not so long ago, Libya was a pariah nation, especially in Europe, thanks to Mr Gaddafi’s undiplomatic, to put it mildly, behaviour. Not anymore. Age and some diplomatic arms twisting have mellowed the colonel. It’s business as usual. Libya isn’t hurting.