African viewpoint: From Mobutu to Gaddafi

A Libyan rebel poses on a golden mermaid couch belonging to Aisha Gaddafi, daughter of Libya's leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, at her house in Tripoli on 26 August.

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo writes that the collapse of the Libyan regime is reminiscent of the fall of other African regimes

The "Liberation of Tripoli", as history will remember it, took 42 years or six months, depending on where you are coming from.

This longest of the 2011 North African revolutions has yet to find complete conclusion because the colonel who, some say, has been missing his mind for a while has now gone missing himself.

He is keen to avoid the humiliation which awaits him, swaying between messages of defiance - "martyrdom or death" - and compromise - "negotiation over the transfer of power".

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To those of us who saw former Zairean ruler Mobutu Sese Seko's gold plated bathroom fittings, the colonel's dictatorship came from the same mould”

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Whether you are in a Nato capital or a village somewhere near South Africa's Karoo switching your remote control between rolling news channels and Premier League football, the drama around Tripoli has been delivering unresolved plots.

Where is the colonel? Which of his offspring has been killed, arrested or escaped? Are the rebel forces really dishing out revenge killings on all dark-skinned Libyans accused of fighting for the missing dictator? Why is the African Union (AU) not so keen on recognising the National Transitional Council (NTC)?

The images pouring out of Tripoli remind us all of any other war we have come to know on our continent - and the truth of dictatorship.

At the heart of this truth is that people were kept in check by fear, patronage and violence and that the dictator saw little difference between himself, his people's god and the state over which he presided.

'Prevalence of arms'

On these pages we heard from a brave "Tripoli witness" that even Libya's children were given to quoting the Gaddafi slogan: Allah, Muammar and Libya - to hide their true thoughts and when the war reached his own gates, it seemed to catch the colonel by surprise.

Then the television cameras entered the palaces in the mysterious compound from where Brother Leader had once conducted his rule.

But there was nothing to these places besides the usual rubbish powerful people collect to set themselves apart from those they control - sofas of gold and marble, swimming pools, fast cars, large screen televisions, hats, chains, shoes and mod cons - but not a decent library in sight.

Picture taken on November 22, 2010 in Nesle shows an elephant set up in the swimming pool in the former residence of late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko Mobutu's jungle palace in his home town of Gbadolite remains in ruins

To those of us who saw former Zairean ruler Mobutu Sese Seko's gold-plated bathroom fittings, the colonel's dictatorship came from the same mould.

Presently, however, larger issues than the colonel's tastes are at stake. The sound of gunfire, the prevalence of arms on Libyan soil, the gruesome discoveries of bodies tortured to death, the lack of water and power and indeed how long Nato will continue to hold the NTC's hand have all been dividing African opinion.

Within the AU few countries have recognised the NTC and the body so long supported by the dictator on the run has been conspicuous by its absence from major decisions on the future of Libya.

Where, Africans have asked, was the AU when one of their own was being bombed, when UN Security Council resolution 1973 was panel-beaten by Nato from meaning the establishment of a no-fly zone to actively supporting one side in the Libyan conflict?

Just the other week the South Africans were dithering about whether to agree to a Security Council proposal to release billions of dollars to those Libyans being enthusiastically endorsed by London, Paris and Washington.

"They wanted the world at one point to stand with them against apartheid," commented UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox on Pretoria's position, "I think they now need to stand with the Libyan people."

It was a trite and unhelpful comparison which annoyed the South Africans even more, coming as it did from a man whose Conservative Party was extremely slow in condemning apartheid and which labelled Nelson Mandela a terrorist right up to his release from jail.

In editorials from Angola to Zanzibar, the Libyan conflict has been seen as transformed from a fight to rid a people of a dictator to an unseemly squabble over Africa's richest oil fields, and the NTC must convince its African sceptics that in restoring order they must forego vengeance and seek the mandate of all Libyans in turning this North African state around.

As Tripoli struggled to free herself from Col Gaddafi's grip last week, a suicide bomber killed 18 people at a military academy in Algeria, while another suicide car bombing claimed the lives of 23 people at the UN headquarters in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

Libya is not a million miles from these African crisis and many wish her a quicker return to peace than the crystal ball currently suggests.

If you would like to comment on Farai Sevenzo's column, please do so below.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Suppose we are at school and study a subject about 'Dictatorship'. After a great deal of discussion, we conclude that there is no place, even not a hole, for dictators all over the world, but what is strange here is that how could it be possible to see dictatorial system or regime, no matter where it is or be, and to do nothing. Of course, we must stop studying, or until dictotorship ends.

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    Comment number 3.

    The revolt against apartheid was a struggle against white dominated rule, and belongs to generation fighting colonial domination. The Zairean revolution that overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko belongs to the next generation, fighting against domestic dictatorship. The Lybian revolution, in contrast, is clearly part of the Arab Spring. There are parallels, but they are not the same.

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    Comment number 2.

    The African Union (AU) is slow to recognise the NTC as the legitimate government for fear of Libya returning to the Arab sphere of influence. One of Gadhafi's legacies will be the establishment and strenthening of Pan-African institutions such as AU; ironically when he was isolated by the Arab League. With his removal, African unity is now more distant!


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